Two Impossible Realities: A Second Interlude

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

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

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

Here’s an example. In 1873, a German physician named Wilhelm Schüssler started treating diseases with special preparations of the twelve mineral salts that are present in the human body in macroscopic quantities; in case anyone’s interested, those are calcium fluoride, calcium phosphate, calcium sulphate, iron phosphate, potassium chloride, potassium phosphate, potassium sulphate, magnesium phosphate, sodium chloride, sodium phosphate, sodium sulphate, and silicon dioxide. Back in the day, those were called “biochemic tissue salts;” nowadays the term that’s normally used is “cell salts.”

There were a lot of innovative therapeutic systems in circulation in those days, and a great deal of lively competition among different approaches to healing diseases and maintaining good health. From the 1870s straight through to the legal prohibition of alternative healing in the 1950s, healing methods using the cell salts had a significant market share of the health care field, and they remained in widespread use even after many other alternative methods fell by the wayside—thus, for example, you can still buy bottles of cell salts in many American health food stores today. Part of the reason for their survival is that they ended up being adopted by a variety of occult schools, and taught to generations of students of magic. The other reason—well, we’ll get to that in due time.

To the proponents of conventional medicine, by contrast, cell salts are pure witchcraft. There’s more than one reason for that judgment, but we’ll ignore for now the obvious matter of financial interest—it’s not polite to point out, after all, that there’s a 1.00 correlation between those health care modalities that make profits for the medical and pharmaceutical industries and those that today’s rationalists call scientific and evidence-based, just as there’s a 1.00 correlation between those health care modalities that today’s rationalists denounce as superstition and fraud and those that don’t make money for the medical and pharmaceutical industries. The other reason, the ostensible reason, is that cell salts are prepared using homeopathic methods.

(Before we go on, I want to ask all my readers, especially those who consider themselves scientific rationalists, to take the time to read what follows, and not simply react to it like one of Pavlov’s dogs to a ringing bell. It’s quite standard for rationalists these days, the moment they encounter a naughty word such as “homeopathic,” to run off at once to one of those websites where true believers heap up talking points to use against heretics—the same reaction, by the way, that sends Christian fundamentalists running off to equivalent websites at the sound of a naughty word such as “evolution,” and the websites in either case are about equally accurate. Those who do run off to such a website, and come back spewing talking points irrelevant to this discussion, will be publicly humiliated. Thank you, and we’ll now proceed with the discussion.)

Here’s how you manufacture a cell salt. You take, let’s say, one gram of pure sodium sulphate, and nine grams of an inert substance—lactose, milk sugar, has been standard for the last century or so. You mix them, and then put them into a device that subjects the mixture to steady vibration for a good long time. This step, which is called succussion, is essential; if you don’t do it, you just end up with dilute sodium sulphate, without the distinctive biological reaction that homeopathic medicines have. You then repeat this same process—take the ten grams of your mixture, add ninety grams of lactose, and succuss it—and repeat it again a fixed number of times. For cell salts, that’s almost always six repetitions of 1/10 dilution followed by succussion, resulting in what chemists call one part per million of sodium sulphate, and homeopaths call the sixth decimal dilution or, in the shorthand that appears on labels, 6x.

If you were to dissolve a good-sized dose of pure sodium sulphate in water and choke it down, you’d get nausea, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and perhaps some liver trouble. When you prepare sodium sulphate for cell salt use by dilution and succussion, though, what you get is a medicine that treats nausea, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, liver trouble, and an assortment of related symptoms. That’s the distinctive biological effect I mentioned above. Furthermore, if you don’t have nausea or one of the other specific symptoms that homeopathically prepared sodium sulphate treats, and you take a dose, it has no noticeable effect at all.

Now of course the claim on the part of the medical and pharmaceutical establishment is that Natrum sulph. 6x (that’s the standard shorthand for the medicine we’re discussing) has no noticeable effect at all, no matter what symptoms you may be having. All I can say in response is that the cell salts have been one of the staples of home health care in my family for more than thirty years now, and they work reliably—more reliably, and with fewer side effects, than over-the-counter medicines generally do. As far as I can tell, by the way, those results aren’t a function of the placebo effect; like most operative mages, I use the placebo effect all the time, with good results. In my experience, for whatever that’s worth, the effects of cell salts are qualitatively different.

I don’t know of any experimental studies assessing the cell salts as such. For the last century or so, they’ve mostly been used by occultists, and that doesn’t exactly attract grant money and enthusiastic scientists, you know. The broader field of homeopathy is another matter. This site, this one, and this oneall list controlled experimental studies that show replicable, statistically significant effects from homeopathic treatment. There are also studies that show no such effects; those that I’ve read failed to make use of the distinctive diagnostic criteria used in homeopathic prescribing, which is a bit like insisting that a radio doesn’t work when you haven’t tried turning it on. Homeopathic medicine isn’t chemical medicine, and ignoring the differences is a useful way to guarantee failure; if you want to test it, you need to learn how to use it according to the rules that more than a century of experience have shown are necessary to get the benefit of the treatment.

Most criticisms of homeopathy over the last half century or so, however, have fixated obsessively on the third of the three fallacious arguments discussed in last week’s post: since current scientific theory doesn’t happen to contain a causal mechanism that can explain the effect of homeopathic medicines, critics have insisted that the effects don’t happen. Now you may be thinking, dear reader, that the logical response to an effect with an unknown cause would be to go looking for the cause; you’d be right, too, except that there’s some reason to think that the cause in question is something that today’s conventional wisdom desperately doesn’t want to find.

There’s actually a very precise theory explaining why cell salts and other homeopathic medicines work; you can find it in the writings of classical homeopaths such as John Tyler Kent, as well as in the mimeographed pages of the kind of old-fashioned occult lessons I studied back in the day. According to this theory, there’s something—we’ll call it the X factor for now—which is present in material substances such as sodium sulphate, which is distinct to each substance, but can be detached from the material mass by certain physical phenomena, including rhythmic vibrations of the sort you produce via succussion. The result of the usual homeopathic preparation process, the theory goes on to claim, is a bottle of lactose that has the X factor normally associated with sodium sulphate.

When you ingest the resulting pills, as a result, the body senses the X factor and reacts as though it was about to get hit by a big dose of sodium sulphate, dumping glandular secretions into the bloodstream and digestive tract in order to counter the expected impact—but there’s only a part per million of sodium sulphate coming, not the dose the body expects from the X factor. It’s reminiscent of one of the classic judo techniques: fake a shove at the other guy, and as he leans forward to counter it, don’t complete the move. If your timing is right, he falls forward onto his face. In the same way, the body’s equilibrium shifts in the opposite direction from the effect a large dose of sodium sulphate would normally produce, and topples over into a new state, closer to normal health.

It’s all very straightforward, except for one little detail: the X factor doesn’t appear to be a material substance. It has no measurable mass, charge, or other physical qualities. It can be detected easily enough by its effects on living things—animals, plants, and cells in laboratory cultures respond to it as well as human beings—but attempts to detect it using any other means have produced extremely equivocal results. That’s what triggers the sudden rush to the fallacies discussed last month: for reasons woven deeply into the fabric of contemporary culture, anything like the X factor I’ve described here generates a visceral reaction among believers in the contemporary scientific mainstream.

You can observe the same reaction at work with another alternative health care modality I’ve studied and practiced extensively. Occultists from different cultures and continents routinely and cheerfully swap techniques, which is why a healing method of Chinese origin, reworked in Japan, got taught by Japanese occultists to French Druids and ended up being practiced enthusiastically in French Druid circles, from which it came my way. Its name is Do-In—the Japanese equivalent of the Chinese term Daoyin—and it’s one form of what’s often, and inaccurately, called acupressure. (The Latin word acus means “needle;” acupuncture means just what it sounds like, “needle puncture,” and acupressure means, well, nothing that makes any kind of literal sense.)

Do-In, like other healing arts of the same general type, doesn’t rely on complicated preparations of chemically pure mineral salts, or anything else on the same level of intricacy.  It relies on fingers. There are places on the body—yes, other than the obvious ones!—where rubbing can cause complex physical reactions in places distant from the site of massage. Over the centuries, physicians in east Asia paid close attention to those points and their reactions, and worked out how to use them to remedy ailments of various kinds. It’s a simple, inexpensive, and very effective way of dealing with a range of common home health care needs, but again, to the proponents of conventional medicine, it’s pure witchcraft.

The reason for this rejection is the same as the one behind the dismissal of cell salt therapy: today’s scientific mainstream knows of no mechanism that would permit, for example, rubbing a point on the wrist to be an effective treatment for nausea—so much more effective than other modalities, as it happens, that even some physicians are now prescribing it for nausea due to pregnancy or chemotherapy. Even though there are plenty of controlled experimental studies showing replicable, statistically significant effects for this and other effects of the same kind—see, for example, this site, this one, this one, or this one—if you mention Do-In or one of its sister arts to one of today’s rationalists, you can count on it being rejected out of hand.

The difficulty is again the X factor. According to the traditional theory that guides Do-In practice, there is something that flows through the body and plays an important role in maintaining it in a state of health, and blockage or stagnation of this something correlates precisely with specific disease states. The specific routes taken by this X factor along the skin, and through the organs and tissues of the body as well, have been mapped out in detail. If you’re pregnant and can’t keep breakfast down, you can find the right point, rub it, and dissipate the blockage that’s keeping your stomach roiled. It’s hard to think of anything more straightforward, except that once again the X factor doesn’t seem to be any form of physical matter or energy. It can be detected by its effects on living organisms—here again, its effects are not limited to human beings—but attempts to detect it by any other means have produced only the most equivocal results.

What makes the issue considerably more challenging is that there are good reasons to think that the X factors behind cell salt therapy and Do-In are not different factors, but different modes, effects, or applications of the same thing, which is also behind a great many other alternative healing modalities, and a great many other things having nothing at all to do with health and healing. Assemble all the various traditional and contemporary reports, and the picture that comes through is of something that’s not matter or energy in the usual, physical sense of either word, but appears to form fields, currents, and accumulations in physical matter of various kinds, and can be affected by certain physical actions, especially rhythmic vibration of the sort involved in either succussion or fingertip massage. It’s not the same as the chemical reactions that modern science identifies with biological life, but it has a close relationship with life and living things, and it can be felt: vaguely by most people, precisely by those who take the time to pay attention to it and develop their abilities to perceive it.

What’s more, an X factor fitting exactly this description has been considered an ordinary, obvious part of everyday reality by most human societies around the world and throughout recorded history. In classical Chinese, the X factor is called qi; in Japanese, ki; in Sanskrit, prana; in Hebrew, ruach; in ancient Greek, pneuma; in classical and medieval Latin, spiritus; in the language of the Kalahari !Kung, n:um—the ! and : are both clicking sounds we don’t have in English—and so on through the roll call of the world’s cultures. (The term we use for it in the Druid traditions I study and teach is nwyfre, which is pronounced roughly “NOO-iv-ruh” and comes from medieval Wales, where it was a familiar concept.) Are these the same thing? A great deal of evidence suggests so; certainly I’ve had detailed discussions with Chinese martial artists, Indian yogins, Shinto priests, and the like, in which we’ve compared notes and agreed that, yes, these different words are referring to the same thing, in the same spirit that an Englishman, a Frenchman, and a German can agree that “the dog,” “le chien,” and “der Hund” all refer to the four-legged animal that’s barking at them.

Are there human societies that don’t have a common word for this very common thing? They’re very much in the minority, but yes, there are some: above all, the cultures of the modern industrial West.

It’s really quite an odd situation, all things considered. A concept that’s part of everyday life in most other human cultures has to lead a hole-and-corner existence in ours, consigned to the realm of rejected knowledge, kept alive in a variety of fringe groups and alternative traditions, and denounced in furious tones by the defenders and cheerleaders of the scientific status quo. That situation has plenty of dimensions and no shortage of irony, but it also has a particular relevance to the theme of this blog, because one of the traditions on the fringe that preserve, teach, and use this X factor—this thing that officially does not, cannot, and must not exist—is magic.

Eliphas Levi, who kickstarted the modern revival of magic a hundred and sixty years ago, described it in the ornate language of his era:

“The great magical agent that we have called astral light, by others named the soul of the earth, which the old alchemists denominated under the names of Azoth and Magnesia, this occult, unique, and indomitable force, is the key of all empire, the secret of all power. It is the flying dragon of Medea, the serpent of the mystery of Eden; it is the universal mirror of visions, the bond of sympathies, the source of love, prophecy, and glory. To know how to wield this agent is to have disposal of a power like that of God; all real and effective magic, all true occult power is in it, and all the books of true [occult] science have no other end but to demonstrate it” (Dogme de la Haute Magie, ch. 11).

“The astral light” is one of the terms commonly used in occult writings for the X factor we’re discussing. There are plenty of others, but this is the one I propose to use in these essays, not least because it carries a good deal less intellectual freight than most of its rivals.

“The whole of magical theory and practice,” the great English magical teacher Dion Fortune wrote, “turns on two points—autosuggestion and the astral light.” Over the months to come, we’ll talk about how these two factors work together to bring about change in consciousness in accordance with will. Before that can begin, though, it’s going to be necessary to spend a little more time talking about this mysterious X factor, the astral light—what it is, how it functions, and why even suggesting the idea reliably elicits foam-flecked tirades from the defenders of the rationalist status quo.


  1. By the way, I meant what I said about attempted comments that spew canned talking points from a skeptic blog. Responses, including critical responses, that discuss the specific points raised in this month's post will be put through and answered, so long as they follow the house rules, but if you decide instead to drag in one of the standard canned arguments that has no relevance to the post, your comment will be deleted without mercy — unless, that is, I decide to put it through, poke fun at it, and then refuse to let you respond. With that caution in mind, we can proceed.

  2. So – “the astral light” is chi, as in tai chi, or however many names it goes by. That makes good sense. Thanks. I'm fairly sure my massage therapist uses something of the sort as well as trigger point therapy. I do want to hear more about the theory of how an individual person can use this energy to her own benefit.

    Thanks again.

  3. That clears that up, I had wondered what exactly you meant about say Qi not actually being energy other than it not being a physical energy like heat or electricity. I knew that was the case though and that “energy” is the best word that we have in our culture for such a phenomenon, since we have to borrow words like Qi, Ki, Prana, and Mana. But I had always wondered what might actually be more precisely meant by such terms, and so it seems we are entering into some interesting territory now.

  4. JMG, great, thanks. Re: the astral light/X factor and its unmentionability in “respectable” circles, I'm reminded of the eye-rolling response I often get when I bring up the topic of astrology. I maintain that anybody who takes a week studying the basic astro archetypes and then references how those archetypes manifest through their acquaintances would come away convinced that there's something to it. But when I do ask the scoffers to do so, the reply is most often, no way, this on the grounds that there's zilch scientific evidence that the planets exert any kind of influence on the human body and psyche.

    Well, obviously they do. I'm not sure myself just how astrology works – planetary etheric energies, maybe? – but it does work and there has to be a cause. It's like denial of miracles, no matter how much evidence that a miracle has occurred – miracles can't occur, so miracles don't happen, over and out.

    Speaking of astrology, I'm guessing that you, JMG, have a boatload of Gemini/3rd house, Virgo/6th house, and mercury-related aspects in your natal chart. Scorpio/Pluto, too.

  5. I just finished reading today's post to my family John, and we're greatly blessed by it (with a few chuckles as well thanks to your fine sense of humor). Thanks!

  6. You drive a hard bargain Mr. Greer. One thing about the placebo effect is that it is ALWAYS in action. But the confounding factor of what is called the nocebo effect, and differences in people make for only generalized conclusions when tested for. That is, the average of improvements by people given a placebo. As you know, the nocebo effect is the result of negative suggestion.

    So in some sense there is no purely physical effect of a treatment. Some physical things however have such a tremendous effect that it drowns whatever ..cebo might be triggered by expectations. Strong toxins come to mind.

    So even homeopathic remedies are influenced by the inevitable expectation of the person and possibly the influence of a practitioner that prescribes the remedy.

    I am truly amazed however with the chi [and all its other names] as you describe it. This is considered to be non-corporeal. Yet I do recall reading a study about injecting a radiological substance into a major acupuncture point and the substance showed up on the screen as fine hairlike lines following the traditional meridian lines. Something seems to exist in the body that is so small that normal dissection technique cannot reveal it. Otherwise, it would seem that the radiological substance would just radiate outward from the site of injection as diffusion occurred.

    I am not arguing one way or another for the physicality of chi.

    If the homeopathic carrier substance-lactose, water, etc- can capture the pattern or whatever of the salt it implies that there is a firm connection between the field of the carrier and the imprinter. A bond as it were. Rather than a temporary influence.

    The pattern however is specific to the imprinter [salt or whatever substance is being used as the medicine] not a generalized chi like substance. Or am I not understanding what this homeopathic process and chi have in common?

    It doesn't seem that electromagnetic fields are the actual thing that is being transferred. Biological fields seem to be directly connected to biological activity not static substances outside the body.

    I am only questioning in the way of an interested student. It fascinates me that magic is both the psychological and the so-called etheric/spiritual/chi whatever. The psychological is what I know best as a mover of change or manifestation.

    I await more from your commentators and you.

  7. Patricia, a lot of massage therapists these days learn various kinds of qi-based methods, so I'm not surprised. As for how individuals can use the astral light, why, yes, we'll be getting into that in quite some detail!

    DM, “energy” is a good metaphor for the astral light, but not a good literal description. I'll be discussing some of the other metaphors, and some of the other descriptors, as we proceed.

    DaShui, ha! We actually have dozens of terms for it — out here on the fringes, at least, we do — so I'll pass on the borrowing from cheap SF. 😉

    Will, and indeed that's something I'll be talking about at quite some length as we proceed. The rationalist crusade against astrology is based on exactly the same fallacy we're describing: science knows of no way for the movement of planets to affect events here on Earth in the way that astrology indicates, so no matter how well it works, it can't work.

    Saturnboy, you're most welcome.

  8. Vicky, I probably should have said “it's not just the placebo effect,” of course. As for the study you cited on radioactive tracing of meridians, that's fascinating — do you have a source to which you could point me?

  9. Thank you! That is the best description of homeopathy I have ever read. I don't have direct experience with it, so I never felt comfortable writing it off or endorsing it. But the way so many materialists fume when it gets mentioned always made me think it was useful. Glad to get some more info from someone who's opinion I trust that has experience with it. I know it is much more accepted in Europe than in the US.

    I would also challenge anyone who does not believe in qi to put their money where their mouth is. Let a martial artist use dim mak (acupuncture for offensive rather than healing purposes) on you. They can make you have serious trouble breathing (this one I can vouch for personally), release your bowels, and disrupt major organs. I wish James Randi would have done that instead of taking a “fatal dose” (sigh) of homeopathic sleeping pills when he gave his TED talk meant to debunk homeopathy (and other things he saw as quackery).

  10. An excellent subject for a post! I confess that homeopathy is something that raises my hackles and compels me post a comment to that effect!

    I'm not entirely sure if it's a leftover reaction from my younger days as a super-strict materialist/atheist or if it's because I've seen enough people acting like they need to buy a constant stream of pills (mostly nutritional supplements) to supposedly improve their health, even though they are already healthy. I suspect it's both.

    I certainly can understand the value of certain forms of occult medicine. The Middle Pillar ritual first saw publication as “The Art of True Healing” and I'm inclined to believe it to be a practice with health benefits, even if they aren't strictly physical.
    I've also been curious about experimenting with tinctures created through herbal alchemy. Even though I have yet to get the ball rolling on that front, it seems like a practice that could very well prove valuable even if the value lies within the mind of the practitioner.

    I suppose most of my issues with homeopathy is with its commercialization. If someone is preparing their own tinctures, that's fine but when people are making money from it, I start getting cautious!

  11. JMG: Sorry that I don't have a reference for that factoid about the meridians showing up on a screen. And as a person that likes some rigor in her arguments, I apologize.

    Would you describe the experience of chi as a sensation that has a delightful lightness to it?

  12. Another question arose. What is happening to the carrier of the homeopathic substance during the vibration phase of the making of the medicine? Is the x factor of it being driven off or what?

    I can imagine a placebo made of lactose that has been shaken as much as a traditional remedy.

    I realize that the homeopathic technique of dilutions of 10 is traditional, but it seems that one could start with the million to one dilution and just shake it as much as it would get in the 6 step process. What am I missing?

  13. @ will

    i am just beginning to look at astrology in connection with my tarot studies, so i may be leaning in a mistaken direction, but my thinking at this point is roughly as follows. if each of us is [merely] a particular expression of a much larger, pervasive consciousness — manifesting let's say for example as the solar system, which in turn may be a particular expression of a consciousness co-extensive with the galaxy, then it would make perfect sense that our individual experiences would be influenced by the movements of and relationships among planets and stars, etc. to take the analogy down to a microscopic level, if we supposed that a cell somewhere in the body were self-aware, we would readily acknowledge that its experience would be affected by activity elsewhere in the body.

    in yet other words, the skin and the brain seem to me to be quite artificial boundaries.

  14. JMG,
    I have an old Do-In manual laying about the dithreabh here someplace! Would you know the timeline for the introduction from Japan into French Druidry?

    Also, in medieval Irish texts there are references to two kinds of energies of the prana/mana/qi sort, Bua and Brí, one which is ever-present but fluctuating in things and one which may be gained or lost according to actions.

  15. Re: giving “The Force” a pass, yeah, especially since the one who put the term in to the American mind then became a Psy3nt0l0gi5t and threw a very Psy3nt0l0gical and materialist explanation at it in his later work.

    Re: “Energy,” actually this is a misleading metaphor to use for it. The X factor behaves very differently than does the thing science has defined as “energy.” It is not conserved nor does it disperse in the manner of material energy (i.e. it is not 100 times weaker at 10 times the distance, it is not 1 million times weaker in a 6x preparation than a 1x solution, etc.), at least not in my experience with it. It behaves more like information, in that a tiny bit of it interacting with the right kind of system can trigger a major change in state. Physical energy can carry information, but the two are not per se equivalent. “Energy” as science defines it is really just a bookkeeping trick anyway, a calculated quantity defined by equations that have been structured because they work and let you describe and predict things with great accuracy. Why does an object moving twice as fast have four times as much kinetic energy, rather than twice as much? Because if you define it that way, the math works out to those nifty and very useful laws of thermodynamics.

    The other problem with “energy” as the metaphor is that people are prone to taking their metaphors literally, and then they start to treat the 'X factor” as though it is physical energy and should behave as such. And (unlike the laws of thermodynamics), if you do that, it most definitely does NOT work. I've seen (and a long time ago been) many a newcomer to this sort of thing trying to “raise energy” by getting all wound up and energetic, straining and pushing, which quite often achieves exactly the opposite of the desired result.

    Before “energy,” the metaphors used for it at least in much of Eurasia were often about “breath.” This has some of the same limitations as “energy,” in that if you take it literally you'll be led astray, as it does not really act much like air either. Of course, that is, if you take a materialist view that “breath” consists only of physical gases.

    Anybody know much about Native American concepts of this “X factor?” I mean the real thing, not contaminated-by-imported-newagey-hoohah ideas?

  16. Certainly, I have seen all three of the fallacies from last month's post in action.

    I've always found homeopathy eminently sensible, and have not understood why people resist it so.

    I haven't heard it explained in quite the way you just did, rather, it was explained as very diluted. It seems to me that it is not quite coincident with spirit or ki (life force). In homeopathy, it is rather more specific than that, starts with a material substance, a great variety of them, and it matters which one you start with.

    For example, I've used oscillococcinum to very great positive effect a couple of times, and tried it other times with no benefit at all. My conclusion is that it only works if the flu-like illness you have is one it corresponds to. If it were a placebo, by the way, you'd think that the following couple of times after my first success would have worked, and then again, since it didn't, why did it work so incredibly well just last month, after prior failures?

    Whereas the life force is a more generalized energy.

  17. Oh, and also, I was told about that wrist pressure point when I was pregnant many years ago and used it to good effect, and I had forgotten about it, sadly, since I should have told my daughter about it.

  18. Hi John, I peeked at your new post and the words Astral Light were quite a shocker, even after your mention of Homeopathy. But I took part once in a concentration exercise where you end up with your hand… tingling. Hard to explain, the hypnotist called it a local energy hypnotic technique, or whatever. It required only simple mental images and it worked in spite of my contrary expectations. I guess as long as it helps you, you can choose the vocabulary you want.
    Since you used the phrase Astral, do you integrate it into a greater theory dealing with Astral travel or Astral body ? Just asking from a cultural standpoint.

  19. Greg, I'm sure Randi knew perfectly well that there's no such thing as a fatal dose of a homeopathic remedy, but couldn't resist the cheap shot. That's typical of the man, unfortunately.

    Nemo, you can buy 500 tablets of a cell salt for around $10. I'd encourage you to look for a product of the mainstream pharmaceutical industry that comes that cheaply!

    Vicky, asking what qi feels like is like asking what food tastes like. There are many different flavors, qualities, or modalities of qi; a feeling of delightful lightness characterizes one of them, yes.

    As for the carrier, lactose has a relatively neutral “X factor” — it isn't driven off so much as swamped by the mineral salt. Finally, a range of dilutions are used in various homeopathic processes — for cell salts, though, decimal dilutions seem to work best, and so they're standard (and cell salts are the only form of homeopathic medicine with which I have any experience).

    Steam Druid, I think it was in the mid-20th century; there was one Breton Druid teacher who worked out a whole cosmology parallel to the East Asian yin and yang dualism, basing his terms on the Coligny calendar. Interesting about the Irish terms; the tradition I inherited comes from Welsh sources, and I haven't studied the Irish material as thoroughly as I should.

    Bill, oh, granted. That's why I like old-fashioned and wholly discredited terms like “the astral light.” I considered messing with everyone's head and talking about “vril”!

    Onething, exactly. If the symptom picture of your illness doesn't correspond to the one the remedy is meant to treat, it's inert. One of the advantages of cell salts is that they treat a broader range of conditions than many other homeopathic remedies.

    Jean-Vivien, curiously enough, we'll be covering some simple exercises in upcoming posts which are probably fairly close to the one you learned. As for other astral matters, yes, we'll get to those too, along with a great deal else. I plan on outlining the philosophical and theoretical basis for the entire body of traditional Western magic before this blog winds up. (Which means it's got a good many years to go…)

  20. Sounds to me from your exposition like the body seeks to return to its most balance state: add a small bit of the something that in large quantities causes a problem and the body in reaction actually fixes the problem. Homeopathy helps the body maintain homeostasis.
    The metaphor with ecology is pretty enticing: as it is with our bodies so it is with the world. Health is a balanced state.
    (We may not have more energy then in a balanced state, in terms of planes trains and autos; but what we will have is a kind of energy closer to happiness because it is closer to life.)

  21. I am a practitioner of acupuncture & dedicate my practice to working with “qi” according to a set of techniques & concepts taught to me as TCM. I have often pondered the question of the anatomy of channels… One might consider a map depicting shipping lanes as “lines” – and these lines correspond to pathways that ships prefer to follow, though an aerial photograph might not show anything at all, or the odd ship that isn't on any line.

    I have been able to confirm, to my own satisfaction, and tolerably often that of my patients', that everything works better when that certain “something” know as “qi” flows along its preferred pathways without disruption.

  22. I have been playing with the idea, a little tongue in cheek, that that astral light is somehow related to gravity. I am working on a practice to connect adults and children to nature from the inside out that combines the principles of Tai Chi,Yoga and Re-evaluation Counseling, which I call Da' i' G Joka, Caribbean creole (I am Trinidadian) for, “that is gravity yoga/joker”. A couple of the metaphors quoted in your essay suggest I may be on to something.

    Or I am blatantly cherry picking

    Thank you for being out there, I relish your thinking.

  23. Greer,
    I started to follow your teachings many years ago, I feel I have gained insight on how our civilization “works”, and I have fealt a great increase in my attunement to reality. Both in the abstract sense and also in way more concrete ways.

    I have always scoured all your writings for hints of quackery, always keeping my guard up.
    With the carefull introduction to magic through green wizardrys mentioning of picatrix, later through blood of the earth I have come to a exciting relationship with the ockult scene.
    “magic as applied psychology” was easy enough to swallow for my rationalist mind.

    This post, and the mentioning of homeopathy, a concept which has been like cryptonite to both myself, and to my whole ring of friends and family is really difficult.
    As a previous commentor said…
    “You are driving a hard bargain.”

    A quote, which might as well be called a defense-spell for the scientific status-quo is starting to ring loudly in my mind.
    “If you open your mind too much, your brain might fall out.”

    I now find myself torn between conflicting desires to either accept homeopathy and continue following your teachings. Or to start questioning your honesty, since I'm utterly unable to question your judgement or sanity.

    Which one is it?
    Are this turn of event a scheme to sacrifice a dysfunctional truth in order to instill compassionate and ultimatly more functional lies?
    Or have I really been so entrenched in dogma, that I have taken ignorance for truth for the majority of my life?

  24. Great essay again JMG.

    I've been mulling whether to do a correspondence course with The Society for the Inner Light for a few years now, as I'm an admirer of Dion Fortune.

    I don't think I'm quite ready yet (my self-discipline needs to improve considerably I think), but I'm sure what you have to say about the Astral Light will be extremely insightful, so many thanks.

  25. As for the wrist/ nausea connection. I get to go deep sea fishing a lot, and it's possible to buy in the tackle shop a battery powered wrist band for sea sickness, which gives a shock every so offen. Amoung the boat captains it has a excellent reputation, but I haven't tried it yet, I will and report back to you.

  26. Zach – I think the study of astrology as it relates to the Tarot, particularly the Major Arcana, is the ideal direction to go. You'll really be exposed to the archetypal essence and meaning of the planets and signs, which sure beats the usual cook book stylings of most popular astro literature. Also, I think the Tarot connection can help in understanding astrological configurations as dimensions of experience, dimensions of consciousness, which is what they truly are.

    The skin and brain are surely boundaries, yes, but I dunno how “artificial” they are – I'd say they were necessary to the growth of human individuality and Spirit. And even in our non-corporeal state, there are still boundaries. We always have a body of some sort.

  27. Is there more than one variety of this 'Air'? Is it related to the supposed earth energies some dowsers claim to trace across the landscape in serpentine form, and to kundalini? Is it processed and refined in various cauldrons such as those of Ceredwin, Bran, Dagda, Gundestrup? Apart from physical health is it related to poetic and prophetic inspiration, and perhaps other things?

  28. Chris, good — homeopathy is all about working with the body's homeostatic reactions. One note, though — just giving a small dose of a dilute substance won't trigger the same reaction. It takes succussion, and thus the X factor.

    Kutamun, the astral is always spilling over into the world of material existence, and vice versa; the planes are discrete rather than continuous, but there are points of contact. More on this down the road!

    Scotlyn, agreed — I've had excellent results with Do-In, and know people who have had chronic health complaints mainstream medicine didn't touch that cleared up promptly after a couple of sessions with a qualified acupuncturist. This stuff really does work.

    John John, cherrypicking is an ancient and honorable tradition in this sort of work! I like “Da' i' G Joka” — but then multilingual puns are a weakness of mine. 😉

    Alnusincana, yes, I figured this would come up with some of my readers. I know of no way to prove my honesty to you, and so you can always insist that I'm deliberately lying; you'd be wrong — what I'm discussing here is the truth as I know it — but that claim's a way out of what I know is an excruciating dilemma.

    The one flotation device I can toss you as you flounder in those waters is to remind you that none of what I'm discussing here contradicts any of the positive discoveries of science. Nothing in magic as I understand it — no, nor anything in homeopathy, Do-In, or any of the other weird things I'll be talking about here — permits the violation of any known physical law. What's going on here, rather, is that there's another realm distinct from that studied by physics, one with its own laws and regularities, that impinges on physical matter and energy only in strictly limited ways, but that has replicable effects on consciousness and life when approached in those ways.

    To put it another way, the only thing in magic (or homeopathy, etc.) that makes it problematic for modern scientists is that it works through a causal mechanism that current science doesn't know about — or, more precisely, has been trying its level best to ignore, for historical and ideological reasons, for some centuries now, and has had to engage in dubious logic from time to time to uphold that rejection. That doesn't mean that science is wrong; it means that science is incomplete, as a description of the whole universe of experience that human beings encounter, and that some of the claims that are often made by scientists (who are, after all, human beings) are mistaken. I don't know if this helps at all, but it's the best I can offer.

    Phil, the SIL has an excellent reputation, so I'd certainly consider it.

    DaShui, that sounds like strong medicine! There are also wrist bands that have a knob that applies pressure to the point — they're much used by people who are undergoing chemotherapy, as the stimulation keeps the nausea at bay.

  29. Re Greg,

    Goodness, a lethal homeopathic dose is a non-sequitur.
    Again, it's very odd to me that the very ones who are scientific and who ought to know that the progress of our knowledge has grown into previously unexpected discoveries of hidden (to our senses) aspects or reality that includes such things as plasma physics and electromagnetism, and forces such as the weak and strong that we cannot see or feel in action – you would think they would not be so pugnacious and arrogant.
    I hadnot realied until this post that they might be considered nonmaterial. It's an expression I struggle with in any case, as I cannot fathom what it might mean. But I have mentioned that before…I do not consider the life force non material, for example. To me, non material means non existent, there is no such category. Personally, I think it is an old fashioned expression that ought to evolve into something better, and largely due to the very science I mention! There are so many forces that we cannot see or feel (radiation) and yet they touch our bodies and affect them, as does the life force.
    I cannot help but ask you, Nemo, why you find it illegitimate for someone to make a living out of making medicinal tinctures or homeopathic remedies, or selling eggs and vegetables…if homeopathics were highly priced, I would agree. Pharmaceuticals, many of them, are absurdly priced.
    Regarding boundaries, it's not that the skin is an artificial boundary – it has essential purposes – but it is not an absolute boundary.
    I think there is no full separation of anything.

  30. Alnusincana,

    I used to be a diehard capital-S Skeptic. Had my subscription to Skeptic magazine and everything. And though my viewpoint on the universe has changed substantially over the years, “If you open your mind too much, your brain might fall out” is still quite good advice. You might consider another old skeptic's favorite– “I'm from Missouri: the 'show me' state.” This is the one that actually opened up the universe for me. Well, my mind too, but hopefully not so much that my brain fell out!

    See, Skeptics are generally great at finding the reasons why something couldn't possibly work. Not so great on the actual try-things-out-for-themselves front. Now, I haven't actually tried homeopathy out for myself yet. But I've tried other things which Skeptics rail against, and been blown away by the results. If homeopathy is a bugbear for you, and you're not sure whether you can trust JMG's judgment over it, there's one very simple experiment you can do.

    With an open mind– not a credulous one, mind you, but not incredulous either, just truly open to possiblity– try some homeopathic treatments for yourself. (Keep it secret from anyone you know, naturally.)

    I understand, even in the case of positive results, you might not feel you are able to discount Placebo effect. Still, it might help you keep your mind in a state where it is open yet with a brain inside. Personal experience is so often the missing ingredient.

    Do-in. Very interesting. Clearly a name directly from the katakana form of the Chinese. I can't find it in any of my dictionaries. These days people in Japan call acupuncture “Hari”, which means “needle”, just like the Latin.

    Do you happen to know, with any more specificity, what sort of “Japanese occultists” these were that made contact with the French Druids?

  31. JMG (and Bill P),

    Very much appreciate this second blog and the accompanying comments.

    I’ve had a certain amount of training and experience with shamanic healing. The new blog and the comments have been prompting me and helping me to re-examine my experiences and understandings.

    In the work that I have gone through, we use the term “energy,” however, I never equated it with the energy of physics or electricity, and I don’t think it is intended as an equivalent. The courses are designed for a Western audience and since there really is nothing in English that corresponds to X factor, “energy” or “luminous energy” are used as rough approximations for discussion or guidance.

    A great deal of my training is based upon the methods, approach, and understandings of the Qero Indians of the Andes. Their term for X factor is causay (COW-sigh). It is described as biomagnetic energy; a fuel; similar to chi; pure white light; an element akin to earth, air, fire, and water.

    We also understand that assigning a word or words to describe or capture the essence of causay, chi, or astral light, and our experiences with such are rather futile endeavors. Words are only a poor approximation of something that is beyond words or images.

  32. Alnusincana:
    I had the opposite reaction to yours. The topics discussed here are, to a chemical engineer’s way of thinking, odd, strange and not even all that interesting. If anyone else had written this post I would have moved on within a second or two. But Mr. Greer has written so thoroughly and with such insights about the dilemmas that our civilization face that, to me, he possesses the very highest level of credibility. Hence I read the post thoughtfully (which is not to say that I fully understood it).

    Regarding the ‘X’ factor — I don’t know if I am correctly understanding the question, but the suggestion appears to be that there is some biological mechanism that we have not yet identified that provides a mechanism for unconventional forms of medical treatment to work. I don’t find that proposition either disturbing or even all that challenging. After all, it was only 200 years ago that the discoveries of Galvani, Volta and others led to an understanding of electricity and thus explained mysteries such as lightning. Ditto for many other types of energy, such as the various nuclear forces.

  33. Excuse me Mr Druid, but isn't the whole “bio-energy” thing rejected by pure fear ? If my memory isn't deceiving me, there was a person using scientific method who was able to photograp the “aura” of people, and show the results to others. If I'm not mistaken he was loudly proclaimed an delusionist and hoax. Without even pretending that his evidence exists. It was ignored as the three little monkeys from Buddhism that can't see evil, can't hear evil and don't speak of evil.

    His last name, I think, was Kirlian or something similar.

    P.S. And I really prefer metaphor of “information” instead of “energy” towards factor Alpha/Omega. X is just a letter that gives me deja vu about certain TV series.

  34. I really appreciate that the topic of health came up. I've always been interested in homeopathy but I didn't notice much of a difference from trying out the remedies. In defense of homeopathy, I don't have a lot of knowledge of how to use the remedies or cell salts. Can anyone recommend good books on the topic?

    Also, thanks to JMG for clarifying what Eliphas Levi meant by astral light. The concept of qi is familiar to me from the Asian martial arts, but I didn't know if that was what Levi had in mind. From my limited reading of Paul Foster Case, I came away thinking that astral light was just electricity, which is a wonderful thing, but somewhat of a let down after reading Levi's description.

  35. I'm a biology student and I had a class on toxicology where the professor, highly tenured and nearing retirement, brought up a few more controversial topics near the end of the class. One was that there's a very common but mostly ignored or cropped out detail in toxicological studies: Very low doses of a toxin frequently produce a small but significant positive effect. Perhaps the effect would be larger if they knew about succussion.

    The professor brought in a speaker who had been working on this subject, and had seen his reputation crumble as a result. He connected these results to preconditioning, a more accepted practice where cutting off blood supply briefly before cutting it off for a longer time period–such as during surgery–will reduce the overall damage caused by lack of blood. It's impressive how close he got, considering he didn't believe in anything non-material, worked with small doses in healthy subjects, and took great pains to distance himself from homeopathy (his reputation was already bad enough).

    For anyone who's never worked in a science lab, ignoring unusual data is standard practice, by the way. You'll never get grant money to do research if you're not already pretty sure of the results before you apply.

  36. What I do not really understand is how you can be so sure that qi, prana, pneuma, astral light, etc *are all the same thing*. I have no doubts that they “work”, but that doesn't mean they must be the same: The Jing Luo from Dao Yin are quite well described in the Chinese literature, but the descriptions in the Veda's seem different, don't they? And homeopathy does not seem to follow the Jing Luo at al.
    The most obvious thing they have in common is that they are not recognized by “modern science”, as you point out in this blog, but I have assumed for quite a while now that to throw it all together and proclaiming it all the same is a distinct feature of New Age thinking, and you have said elsewhere that you do not like New Age at all.
    To take the metaphor of your own book “A world full of Gods”: yes, there obviously are cats around, but they seem to be drawn to different kinds of food, and have different colored skins. There are similarities, however they are not the same.

    To finish: I *have* seen people who had bad side-effects for homeopatic medicine that was not appropriate for their condition. Obviously, pharmaceuticals cause much more problems each year, but in my experience, if the homeopatich medicine is not chosen right, it is not always inert at all.

  37. Patricia Matthews and JMG,

    A relatively minor point: The “chi” in taichi is not the chi that is present in living things / homeopathic salts / gets manipulated by acupuncture; they're different words. The actual Chinese characters are 太極 and 氣. According to the most widely used system of rendering Chinese words with Latin alphabet, taichi should be tàijí, and chi should be qì.


  38. I have been experimenting with homeopathy for awhile – not the cell salts yet, but some of the other homeopathic preparations, and mostly in mixtures. Often enough they work. Sometimes they don't, which I understand could be because I picked the wrong one. I've also wondered if something else could be blocking them even if they might otherwise work. The “something else” might be something I ate or drank or breathed. I didn't know about factor X as I haven't studied how homeopathy works so far, but I have wondered if environmental toxins might block the effects of some of the remedies. Given your explanation for how the cell salts work, maybe other substances could interfere with them through their particular factor X(s).

  39. Hello JMG

    A while ago I thought of a logical line of reasoning out of alnusincana's quandary but I'd like it to be double checked; perhaps you (and others here) could help me out?

    Here goes:

    It is not possible to prove the absence of qi / the astral light; the closest thing is to individually disprove each claimed piece of evidence for it. Obviously the larger the number of disproofs the more credible the claim that qi doesn't exist. But it only takes one undisprovable piece of evidence of the astral light to render all previous disproofs void. So if one had to bet on the existence of the astral light, the strictly rational decision would be to bet that it does exist.

    Any logical flaws in that?


  40. alnusincana,

    “If you open your mind too much, your brain might fall out” sounds a lot like “If you sail too far, you will fall off the edge of the earth”. Admitting that homeopathy works is not at odds with rationalism, it's only at odds with minds that don't apply rationalism rigorously. Absence of proof is not proof of absence, both for the workings of homeopathy and for the existence of the astral light.

    I urge you to take courage and open your mind. To the astral light at least. Your brain won't fall out no matter how rationalist your mind – I know that for a fact, I have a PhD in mechanical engineering. And Bill Pulliam is also formally highly trained in the scientific method – an ecologist I believe, though I can't tell exactly what qualifications – Google doesn't produce any relevant results.

    One hint – the astral light is not at all mystical or “weird”. Teachings from Asia tend to come across as such, but that is largely due to imperfect translation. You are almost certainly already familiar with aspects of it, just under a different name.


  41. From Ioan Coulianis “magic and eros in the renaissance “
    “Quinta essentia (which is the ether, or the pneuma), the human soul is concentrated in the heart and enters the body through the spirit. Things have a varying degree of craving for the quinta essentia, which means that certain things have a pneumatic capacity superior to others.

    What is the quinta essentia? It is the cosmic spirit, which fulfills the same function of intermediary between the soul and the body of the world as does the human spirit between the individual soul and body. This source of all generation and growth “we can call either heaven or quinta essentia” (chap. III).

    Through it the Platonists [that is, Arab astrologers and magi- cians-author's note] by adapting our spirit to the spirit of the world by means of the magic of talismans lars physical and emotion [affectum], try to direct our soul and our body toward the blessings of heaven. That causes the strengthening of our spirit by means of the world's spirit, through the action of the stellar rays acting beneficently upon our spirit, which is of the same kind as these rays; this lets it attract to itself celestial things. “

  42. I rember having a conversation with someone who practiced astrology where thay discussed a theory about the underlying mechanism. The idea was that it was not so much the stars and planets having influence, but changes in the forces of earth (electromaganetic or other) that occured when people noticed particular constellations and planets.

    I was also wondering if the vibration actually caused the “x” factor to be reflected by the lactose like a bunch of mirrors? Would the “x” factor of a salt have relationship to other things? I was thinking of the vibrations of color or sound, but that may be where the idea of “energy” is being misapplied.

    Insecond the request for suggested reading recommendations on getting a greater understanding of the ideas.

  43. Raven, stay tuned!

    Quin, yes, Do-In is a straightforward transliteration of the Chinese phrase Daoyin. As for the Japanese occultists, they were associated with the macrobiotic scene — I know Michio Kushi was one of those involved, though I've been told that there were others.

    Valekeeperx, “causay” is a new one for me — many thanks!

    Piter, yes, it was Kirlian. We could spend a long time talking about people in the West who've discovered this same phenomenon. I think it's not merely fear, though — there are some very deep cultural and ideological patterns at work here.

    Michael, the best short intro to the cell salts is Chapman and Perry's The Biochemic Handbook. Most of the more detailed volumes are long out of print, but can be found on the used book market — Boericke and Dewey's The Twelve Tissue Remedies is the one I mostly use for day to day health care.

    Junto, fascinating. I've seen other examples of the suppression of inconvenient data — in fact, we may just be talking about that next month.

    Andrew, as I said in the post, my reason for that claim is that I've talked shop with a lot of people who use different practices and cultural traditions that relate to qi, prana, etc., and the consensus is that it's the same thing. For what it's worth, I also know quite a few people who practice more than one of these arts — who practice, say, western magic and t'ai chi ch'uan — and who compare the effects and say, “This is the same stuff.”

    SMJ, yes, I'm aware of that.

    SLClaire, indeed it could be. If you read introductory homeopathy books you'll encounter the concept of “antidoting” — some foods and drinks reliably neutralize the homeopathic reaction.

    SMJ, nice. As an argument from probability, it stands.

    Kutamun, indeed — we'll be discussing that book down the road a bit.

    Candace, those are good questions, to which nobody yet has the answers. In dealing with the astral light, we're very much in the position of 18th century scientists who had figured out that there was this thing called “electricity,” but had only the most rule-of-thumb notions about how it worked and no idea at all what it was.

  44. Hi JMG,

    Yes, I've made the innocent mistake of mentioning my practice and partaking of medicinal herb lore to a doctor (general practitioner) only to then be treated like a crazy person.

    It was a very humiliating experience and only served to further my interest in the subject. The basis for this was that if the doctor felt so threatened by medicinal herbs, then there must be something in it.

    It stinks of a turf war. Sad really.

    Incidentally, I've known tolerably well, 3 people that have achieved PhD's and then turned their backs on them to pursue other avenues of employment. The funny thing about each of them was that I asked multiple times and in different ways for them to explain their research to me. I did not get a coherent answer either and mostly I felt that they were dissembling.

    I've often felt that they didn't wish to demystify their own research because the hard question would then have been raised: If that research made a difference why did they walk away from it?

    Yeah, a cry of ki-yah provides much needed energy in martial arts work.



  45. I'm interested if “astral light” corresponds in any way to Sheldrake's idea of Morphic Resonance – could they be different aspects of the same thing? Or just closely related concepts?

    If so, then astral light might be designated as a “field”, like the gravitational field, which is also universal, non-physical, dimensionless etc.

  46. Andrew — I think the hypothesis that these are all aspects of the same thing is similar to Newton's hypothesis that the thing which causes the apple to fall, and the thing which holds the moon in its orbit, are the same thing. Or, with the cat metaphor, there may be many different cats, but they are all made of the same stuff. Indeed, the cat and the amoeba share most of the same basic cellular biology, even if they manifest it outwardly in what appear to be very different ways.

    Whether this hypothesis is “testable” is another matter; whether it matters if it is testable it yet a third matter. To the subjective, subconscious, intuitive self they “feel” as though they are closely allied, and it is this part of the self that is generally most adept at perceiving them. What comes from my wife's hands when she does reiki on my sore shoulder, and what flows through my body when I do qijong or yoga, seem to have a similar essence, though the precise quality does vary.

  47. Another thought about names for this thing in modern English — it is actually widely known among athletes, dancers, musicians, and the like, at an experiential level. There it's called things like “the groove,” “the zone,” “the flow,” etc. And, of course, in all these realms, it is also called “magic.”

  48. JMG said: As for the study you cited on radioactive tracing of meridians, that's fascinating — do you have a source to which you could point me?

    “A CT (computerized tomography) scan is a series of X-rays used to create cross-sectional images. In this study published in the Journal of Electron Spectroscopy and Related Phenomena, researchers used in-line phase contrast CT imaging with synchrotron radiation on both non-acupuncture points and acupuncture points. The CT scans revealed clear distinctions between the non-acupuncture point and acupuncture point anatomical structures.”

  49. JMG, are you familiar with 'The Book of Do-In' by Michio Kushi?

    I came across it while studying Taoist internal arts and I've just taken a dusty copy from the shelf – haven't looked in it for ages. I remember that the dietary info left me 'cold', but the calisthenics and physical / internal exercises tied in interestingly with some of the Taoist practices and ideas.

    Thank you for the reminder – it is long overdue for another read.

  50. As a person with scientific training in chemistry, I wonder if the negative reaction to things like homeopathy, the aura, and suchlike among scientists has to do with current scientific antipathy to the concept of vitalism. I remember being taught long ago that back in the ignorant past, people thought that substances like air, water, salt, and so forth were living – vitalism. That idea, however, prevented scientific progress and was eventually shown to be false by some of the great scientists of the past. (Understand I'm writing from memories of many years ago. I just looked in the indexes of two chemistry textbooks from college and could not find vitalism in either. It must have been earlier, or in another context, that the discussion took place. Perhaps when alchemy was discussed briefly, only to get a similarly dismissive treatment.) If I catch the consequences of the existence of factor X / the astral light correctly, we have to extend recognition of their aliveness to many things scientists don't currently consider to be alive. After having made such a strong denunciation of vitalism that it's considered a bedrock principle of modern-day science, homeopathy and other phenomena that smell of vitalism can't be allowed to exist.

  51. Archdruid,

    As long as there aren't unfounded claims about what homeopathy and these other sciences can do I have no argument against them. It does get under my skin when people start saying things like these practices can cure aids and etc…So for now you still have my attention.

  52. You said that you know of no way to prove your honesty to someone. I was thinking about auras and whether they show something permanent about someone or just transient states. I’m starting to grasp the idea that objective reality is a subjective mental construct but your comment made me wonder how you apply that to people, to relationships.

    If there is an objective truth of who another person is, we can never know it can we? Some acts of faith are necessary to get through the day, like having faith that my breakfast won’t kill me, but how do you decide whether or not to have faith in a person when you don’t absolutely have to decide at all? Whether or not to trust what you think you know about them and their values and what they believe? If there’s no permanent core to anyone anyway then what is there to trust in? Some day I promise I’ll write a comment that’s not just a string of questions…

  53. I'll be paying close attention to this information on traditional healing modalities. I've been having health problems, and so need them. If you have any book recommendations on Do-in or the like, I mean to put in some interlibrary loan requests.

    BTW, I've found that performing the ritual of the Rose Cross makes me feel better. Not a cure-all by any means, but it seems to help.

    I'm curious to learn of the differences – and any intersections – between autosuggestion and the astral light. Poke Runyon's recommendations have gotten me started on the former, though I can't claim to be particularly disciplined about it.

  54. Hmmm… I think that the evidence for acupuncture and the meridians is overwhelming in the 'it's physical' camp. Until just now I was not convinced either way. The Chinese seem to have been doing a lot of rigorous science regarding it. Not just one study that is provocative. We still don't know what is the function or purpose of the meridian system or why the major points affect it.

    Which makes me think that the word 'chi' and its equivalents is just a stand in for any function that is both unknown in its precise detail and relates to life and health. Prior to the discovery of oxygen and its use by the body, air was thought to contain this chi or prana.

    So the flavors of chi may in fact be really different things that are still mysterious. Whether they fall outside the material world or just the world of the direct senses is yet to be decided.

    Just as chemicals in parts per million or less can be bioactive, tiny things like stimulating a spot on the body seem to have an impact much bigger than the stimulus. But obviously not all tiny actions or relatively big ones are as bioactive or we would surely die before we learned to walk.

    It does seem that acupuncture is a method of returning whatever this bodily system is to a more neutral condition or a steady flow.

    My own small experience with acupuncture was very painful and had no healing benefit. But that is not much different than some experiences with medical doctors. I probably have a jaundiced view of the potential benefits. But I will never take refuge in the argument that its healing mode is only a placebo as much of the western world has thought for quite awhile. How strong a healing effect it has over and above the psychological effects is still an open question for me.

  55. Thank you JMG for discussing these points in such clear, lucid, and sane ways!

    So, I've experienced this “astral light” in relation to meditation practices and believe it goes very deep. There is the same “astral lighting” around say, a present moment exercise, as there is with the Destiny sense of deja-vu, or falling in love or finding one's prayers manifest in waking life.

    Perhaps I'm merely conflating subjective states, but this X-factor as you call it seems like a pervasive phenomenon to me, not limited at all to alternative medical modalities. If I'm understanding correctly this is a rather common experience. How sad it is then that it is so rejected by the modern western world. Even the most rigid rationalists get a certain look in their eyes when they describe the synchronistic chain of events that led them to find their spouse or the way they manifested their phd against all odds. I think that westerners know that these experiences have a reality that transcends the mechanical order, but lack the language to express it as well as being hamstrung by the prevailing dogmatism.

    Do you happen to know if English, German, French, Spanish etc have ever had a word for “astral light” that was perhaps purged after some key moment in the history of ideas, or has it always been bereft of an easy way of expressing this concept such as pneuma, ruach etc?

  56. Cherokee, a turf war is precisely what it is, of course. MDs these days usually come out of school with huge debt loads, and every potential patient who treats his or her own illnesses, or goes to an acupuncturist or some other alternative health care provider, is one less person paying down those debts. I can sympathize with them, but on the other hand I didn't sign up for the student loans…

    Phil, oddly enough, we'll be talking about morphic resonance in an upcoming post!

    Bill, hmm! You're right, of course. There are also other common terms dealing with other aspects of the astral light — think about how often people talk about the “atmosphere,” “feel,” or “vibe” of a place. More on this next month.

    Earthworm, many thanks. As for Kushi's book, why, yes — my copy has been used so heavily I had to get it punched and spiral bound. Jacques de Langre and Jean Rofidal are other authors I recommend.

    SLClaire, bingo. You get the gold star tonight for catching that. We'll be talking about vitalism quite a bit as we proceed.

    Varun, oh, granted — just because a health care modality works doesn't mean it can't be oversold. There are also some alternative healing methods that, as far as I can tell, get all their effectiveness through the placebo effect.

    Mallow, they're good questions, worth using as a theme for meditation.

    Val, see my response to Earthworm above. You may need to go to the used book market, though — I haven't seen a lot of Do-In books in libraries of late.

    Vicky, it's entirely possible that qi is a category that contains several different phenomena. There's a lot of good information about how to use it and what it can do, but very little on what it is — a situation that's not helped by the pseudoskeptical insistence that it's not anything at all.

    Violet, exactly — the astral light is always present, and we interact with it all the time. It's just that our culture pretends that there's nothing there. In the Middle Ages, by the way, the standard word for the astral light in the Western world was “spirit” and its cognates — esprit, geist, and so on. It was only later that these words took on their modern meanings.

  57. Good to hear more about homeopathy, i'd been aware of some of it's methods but not really looked into it.

    As someone who has had a Kundalini awakening, I can testify to feeling the 'energy' in lot's of different ways – or, indeed, of feeling many different energies! From quite violent, pulsing, rushing hot to gentle tingling – and if I let my hands go, they will follow various circular or spiral patterns; being led by the energy. My upper body, again – if i let it go, is often lead into stretching positions.
    One explanation I've read of kundalini, from William Bodri, is that it is – more specifically – yang chi, and that the whole kundalini awakening process is indeed yang chi arising to 'purify' the yin chi… Echoes of the hierosgamos.
    The mind/matter barrier also seems to have been, not broken – of course, but distinctly re-evaluated! Maybe – perhaps just because everything can be so much more extreme, and in turn I have found myself so much more sensitive.

    Looking forward to reading and learning more.

  58. We just made pizza using a homemade sourdough leaven – looking up Jacques de Langre the first thing I found was:
    “From the files of Jacques de Langre, founder of our company, we present a researched lecture regarding the difference between yeasted breads and naturally leavened breads”.
    Then the cover of one of his Do-In books possibly being the maze at Chartre which I have just re-created to use as a graphic… sometimes I get the impression that the hint of laughter I sometimes imagine in the ether could be the universe poking me gently with a stick.

  59. Gday @PhilKnight , curious you mentioned gravity …watching the recent sci fi flick “Interstellar ” …matt mcconaughie and his mates flew a spaceship theough a black hole to land themselves in the “fifth dimension ” the astral plane it was , with time being seriously distorted , like being enmeshed in a liquid amorphous substance , (dream state ) , somehow connected to Gravity ….interesting .. Hey , if they had bothered to follow this blog we could save NASA the billions of dollars , work , and the hassle of being cryogenically suspended for years in flying out to a worm hole just for a bo- peep !

  60. The Daoists don't necessarily view qi as something that exists as such, they treated it as a model which they used when useful and set to one side when not. And as their knowledge of processes and systems improved they adjusted the model. I think they were a lot better at not confusing the map with the territory than many of today's thinkers.

    Bill Pulliam, “it is not possible to prove the absence of *anything.*” – that's what I thought! Best to keep an open mind, within the bounds of what's practicable.


  61. I would say that I have no Greek or Hebrew, but I'm honestly surprised that I appear to be the only Christian eavesdropping here who knows that the Hebrew and Greek words you listed are the words usually translated in the Bible as the “Holy Spirit”. See also the “Light” as discussed among the Quakers. Think of the healing practices of Pentecostals and the breathing exercises of the monastics of the Orthodox churches.

    So yes, the West does have a word, but witch paranoicacs and Protestants screwed up a lot of things for a lot of Westerners. There are contemplatives and scholars trying to fix the mess. Most of the reason I visit your second site here, JMG, is that I'm a lay woman trying to help them. Also, I like it when you quote C.S. Lewis!

  62. You really are a much wanted voice reaching into some much needed territory right now. I’ve only been involved with the occult scene for a little under a decade, so I haven’t had anything like your years of experience of the movement, but even in the short time I’ve been here, I’ve started noticing a bit of a shift. It seems like as recently as 3 years ago, I couldn’t sit down to a conversation on the occult scene without having to cringe through stories of alien abductions, The Secret, the coming consciousness shift of 2012, past lives as Atlantean sun priests, or various other topics skimmed off the bottom of the New Age movement. I’m not sure when it happened, but within just the past 2 or 3 years, I’ve started seeing more and more people in the magic community running to those skeptic blogs you mentioned at the slightest mention of alternative medicine, the spirit realm, the life force, parapsychology and other topics outside of the mainstream. It’s not universal yet, and there are still plenty of like-minded people I know. But at the same time, more and more concepts that were once fairly tame and uncontroversial in the magical community have started to be denounced as “woo” and pushed to the fringes while abductees and reincarnated Atlantean sun priests are usually chased out where they were once begrudgingly tolerated. To a degree, it makes sense, since the magical community is trying to distance itself from the unfortunate reputation the New Age movement has gained. On the other hand, it seems like there are a lot of useful concepts and practices being tossed out with it. It’s nice to see a reasoned, moderate voice looking at what can and should be salvaged. Is it a trend you’ve noticed at all? Is that something that moves in cycles? Is it regional or community specific? Or is it part of a broader trend of the sort that led to the schism between Philosophic and Theurgic Neoplatonism by the end of the 4th century AD?

  63. Whoa! This post set off a whole burst of thoughts. Let's see…

    1) “To know how to wield this agent is to have disposal of a power like that of God.” Umm, in my sacred scriptures the phrase “you shall be as gods” comes fairly early and the results were, shall we say, disappointing. It may be worth pointing out that we're venturing into deep and potentially very dangerous waters.
    2) You choice of the term “X factor” reminds me of Weston Price, who discovered a substance he called “factor X” present in e.g. butter from cows eating spring grass that seemed to promote dental and bone health. It's been only recently that this Factor X has been found to correspond with what science calls vitamin K2. Science can catch up!
    3) One of my tests for these sorts of phenomena is “does it work on (non-human) animals. This cuts both ways: acupuncture seems to work, but so does vaccination.
    4) Many things considered “poisons” (e.g. nuclear radiation, ethanol) seem to have an optimal dose; levels below as well as above result in dysfunction. This is true for many nutrients as well.

  64. Greer: Thank you for a generous answer and a steady flotation device. It helps alot, but I still feel like my world got turned quite upside down.
    quinthemighty: I will consider it. That, and also just be more open to the possibility that it might work and sieze with my previous habit of dimissing it out of hand. I did follow some of the links offered and while I havn't found something that I feel is conclusive yet, the results are alot more ambigious that I previously thought.
    ChemEng: What you are describing isn't something that I would label opposite of my reaction.
    I would have moved on within a second or two if the message had come from any other source myself. The trust that I have built up for Greer over the years is what makes this impossible, and thus my dilemma.
    As for the comparisson about electricity, the phenomenom that they “discovered” had been known for millennia, they just formalized it and gained an understanding of it. There wasn't a broad consensus among Voltas contemporaries that nothing what so ever happend neither COULD anything possibly happen, when one rubbed amber and fur together.
    SMJ: Thank you for your encouraging words.

  65. Ok so I read a bit and did some houseworking and walking meditation so I hope that counts. So consciousness is real and it has a centre. I think that centre stays the same even when the rest of your personality changes, and I think that centre is where your values and your character come from. And if that’s true then it’s probably true for everyone. And everyone’s must be different because we’ve all evolved to be different from each other. So if you could see someone’s aura you’d have to see something of that centre in there along with other more transient stuff.

    So, whether or not to trust a person – you can never know someone else’s centre of consciousness directly, like, I think, you can your own. So you can only create a subjective mental model of them in the same way you can create a model of the shape of time or of the cosmos. You need to have faith about some things in order to function and be sane and that includes relationships with other people as well as with religion, or something like religion.

    So for people that you want or have to have a relationship with, you have to form a mental model of them, which can never be objective and you can never know for certain that it’s accurate. You have to choose a mental model of them to have faith in. You can base it on observing patterns in their behaviour or attitudes and on your intuition about them and things like that, like you can for, say, deciding what shape of time best fits your and other people’s experience of it. And you can test your model against the reality of what your consciousness experiences of the other person and against other people’s models of them.

    And whatever mental model you choose will, or should, filter the sensations you receive about the other person through the lens of your own values – of what’s important to you, like honesty or kindness or something, which is shaped by your experiences. Then you’re in a position to judge the other person really, to judge whether or not you like them, or how far you’d trust them or whether or not you think they’re a good person, by your own standards of course.

    It’s accepting the same uncertainty as accepting that you’re not god and you’re not omniscient and that just means that all the truths you can know are partial. But most of us still have to trust a lot of people to at least some extent, just to get through the day.

    Maybe what’s bothering me is that there’s something about the culture I grew up in, that I think comes from Christianity, that’s all about not judging – about only being allowed to throw stones if you’re without sin. People quote that as if it means that judging other people in any kind of negative way indicates that you must think you’re perfect (instead of being, say, just don’t stone people). And because other people are all Gods children too, or all come from the same Source or whatever, that means that you should start with the assumption that they’re basically good (I suppose because the Christian god is meant to be omnibenevolent).

    And so judging other people negatively and limiting who you trust and how much is seen as a sign of being self-righteous and bitter. I read this stuff about forgiveness which was all about thinking about a time you hurt someone and through that trying to understand why someone else hurt you and so being able to forgive them. As if the fact we’re all flawed and we all hurt people means that all flaws and hurts are ‘the same’ or ‘equal’ or that you can infer other people’s motivations for hurting you from your own, and so to forgive is to be humble. In New Agey stuff too there’s a lot about being open to and trusting the universe and therefore other people because we’re all one underneath or something. It’s like trust and forgiveness are tests of your spiritual state and those of us with issues about that, are just, you know, not as evolved… Am I on the right track at all?

  66. Hi JMG,
    At my UU church I hear the refrain of “many windows, one light” fairly often, and I know it's a key concept in Hinduism and a lot of mysticism – learning to see past the distinctions of everyday life and merging with the divine light that's the source of all things.

    Is the astral light you're talking about the same thing?
    If I remember right, you reject the idea (or at least declare it unnecessary) of “all gods are really one” in “A World Full of Gods.”

  67. It's not hard to find literature on “radioactive tracers in acupuncture” (just toss that phrase into Google). One respectable-looking study states that there's no mystery; the radiograph “merely” shows the vascular drainage system… AS IF blockages in tiny structures of the vascular system are something one need not be concerned with! I suppose the next step should be to compare radiographs before and after acupuncture treatment.

  68. Is it just as important to the anti-scientist to deny the physical basis for alternative medicine as it is for the scientist to assert the physical basis for main-stream medicine? Residing on the mainstream-fringe of the fringe, I think I hear just as much dogmatism on both sides.

  69. JMG,

    A coincidence: I just randomly picked up “The Spark in the Machine” (2014) by Daniel Keown at the library. I expect you know a great deal more about its subject matter (acupuncture) than I do; nonetheless, I imagine you and your readers may find it interesting. Daniel is a British medical doctor who practices acupuncture with Western medicine.

    The publisher thought it prudent to include the following note on the copyright page: “This book does not attempt to map Chinese medicine onto Western medicine, but explores how the body is better understood through a synthesis of both paradigms.” This is exactly what Daniel attempts to do. He takes embryology, current Western medical theories on morphogenesis, and the role and properties of fascia in the body and relates these to acupuncture theory and practice.

    His X factor is of course Qi. Its flow through the body seems to be related (at least in part) to electrical flow through the fascia.

    Thought you and your readers might enjoy it. Thanks or the post.

  70. Mooncalf, interesting. I don't know enough about the different modalities of qi in Chinese theory to be able to identify kundalini in those terms, but that sort of cross-cultural comparison is interesting stuff.

    Earthworm, de Langre was a very odd duck, who included a great deal of very strange lore from occult sources in his books. On the other hand, his instructions for practicing Do-In are first-rate.

    SMJ, from a Daoist standpoint, it's hard to say whether anything “exists” or not, so that's not necessarily a strong argument!

    Kathy, excellent. I trust you have a copy of Lewis' The Discarded Image on your shelf!

    Raven, thanks for the link.

    Eric, there's a cycle in American popular religion in which occultism goes in and out of fashion — it's 30-40 years in and 30-40 years out, probably driven by generational issues. What you've observed is the twilight of the occult and Pagan boom that got under way in the early 1980s. A lot of people are groping their way to the exits, and today's fashionable skepticism is one of the convenient routes out of Neopaganism. I'll do a post about that one of these days.

    RPC, “a power like that of God” implies, in Levi's more complete discussion, likeness in kind but not in scale; the difference is that between a finite and an infinite number. What Levi is saying, in fact, is another way of phrasing the Biblical claim that humanity is made in the image of God.

    Alnusincana, you're welcome. I've helped a lot of people through that particular crisis — every teacher of magic is used to the panicked phone call or email when your student does a working and things really, unquestionably happen.

    Mallow, I've never been comfortable about the New Age claim that judging is bad. To judge is to assess something against one's sense of values, and that's an important and necessary thing to do; like anything else, it can be overdone, especially if the values are unexamined and tangled up with hypocrisy and selfish desires. Still, it happens embarrassingly often that those who insist that you should never judge another person are all too obviously interested in making sure that you don't question their dubious behavior.

    Cliff, no, it's not the same thing at all. Stay tuned!

    LatheChuck, oh, granted. One of the reasons that occultists tend to reject claims for physical causation of magical phenomena is that very often, those claims are used to try to slap limits on what magic is supposedly able to do, whether or not those limits correspond with the actual experience of magicians.

    Agent, thanks for the tip! I'll check it out as time permits.

  71. Hi JMG,

    haha! You know what? I'd never considered that aspect of the debt situation, but you are so very correct. It is obvious from hindsight too. My take is this: If the game is stacked against you then try something different or don't play. I had to pay off my student debt and it took a year’s salary (before tax) – which is equivalent to several year’s savings.

    Incidentally, I often get vibes about a place or people. Sometimes, people walking past me can send shivers up my back and then I usually hope their plans don't involve me.

    Often, though I look into their eyes and there is so much to be read there and it is there for all the world to see. Some people have dead eyes, others are like sharks looking for opportunities. Fortunately most are pleasant. The best are full of wonder at the goings on in the world and they are a joy to be around.

    Incidentally it is not often that I get repulsed by someone's actions, but this person kind of also gave me a bad vibe: Mummy's girl

    I reckon it may have been an advertisement with a sneezer who was possibly getting subsidised treatments, but to her credit she is honest, but it is an ugly form of honesty. Rarely do I feel such strong feelings of fear or maybe even loathing, but this subject was just disturbing in its single mindedness.

    I'm not putting it forward for judgement, but merely as one of the first times that I have had really bad vibes from written words. How can people be that out of touch with nature?



  72. Hey JMG, I've never read The Discarded Image but I will now. I was thinking of that post – the second one here? – where I struggled to understand, my head was beginning to hurt trying to figure out on Earth you were talking about and then you quoted 'Til We Have Faces and I thought, “oh, THAT's what the Archdruid's talking about!” And then there was no problem.

  73. “What you've observed is the twilight of the occult and Pagan boom that got under way in the early 1980s. […] I'll do a post about that one of these days.”

    You've mentioned that theme a few times before, and it's always left me feeling a bit uncomfortable despite seeing the signs that you are probably right. That world became one of my main sources of friendship, community, personal growth and meaning shortly after I moved away from my parents' home, and I don't like thinking about a world without it. Are there ways for people in the movement to weather that particular storm without losing everything? I suppose the key to that would be becoming skilled enough in one's practice to be able to teach others who would listen in the hopes that the best achievements of this cycle of the movement can pass into waiting hands in another 30 or 40 years. That would make maintaining a solid, habitual daily practice and a wide array of deeply rooted skills even more important at a time like this than it usually would be wouldn't it?

  74. Another ADR reader having migrated across to sip from the Well also. Some interesting ground covered this month. I've always been a bit sceptical about homeopathy, though not hostile towards it as it appears to abide by Hypocrates' first principle.

    This derives from my formal education in pharmacy, but I should say on the opposite hand, that left me with an even greater scepticism about 'Western medicine'. The first big wet fish that slapped across my face was the revelation that over 50% of hospital admissions were attributable to iatrogenic causes (ie the unintended consequences of prior medical treatment), the sprat which followed on and sealed the fate of my faith in the received wisdom was the 'rebound effect', by which the body's homoeostatic processes tend to counter the effects of chemical interventions. This seems to be closely related to the mechanism by which homeopathy operates, as explained above (the X-factor creating a response larger than the 'diluted insult'). It all left me with the overall impression that chemical interventions are best avoided, except in extremis. Not so much a case of using a hammer to crack a nut, but an attempt to crack a rubber ball with serious risk of getting a hammer in the face as a result.

    Like the old lady who swallowed a fly, chemical interventions can result in an increasingly complex cascade of swallowing more and more things to clear up the side-effects of prior swallowings. In fact, that very phrase 'side effects' should give a big clue: drugs effective enough to act on the 'target' system almost invariably affect other systems, each of which has its own homoeostatic response. Before long the whole body gets deflected to a state where its own defensive abilities become seriously compromised.

    There ARE situations and treatments which work out, but overall I believe we are over-eager to treat. As the old joke has it, if you leave a cold untreated it will drag out for a week, but treatment can clear it up in just seven days.

    All of which brings me back to the point that this month's post leaves me with a bit more credence towards homeopathy. Talking of the 'antidoting' effect of food etc, there would seem to be plenty of scope for that from novel environmental pollutants as well.

    One last observation: during my time at sea, I did try the acupressure wristbands others have mentioned and never experienced any sea-sickness at all, even in a North Sea force 12 storm. However, I can't really attest to that as being effective because when I stopped wearing the bands, I still had no seasickness, even when half of the other crewmembers were laid low. The question remains – am I just one of those lucky few who don't suffer, or did my use of the wristbands initially 'train' my body to behave?

  75. Cherokee, when we've spent three centuries as a culture desperately trying to pretend that we're not part of nature, it impresses me that more people aren't that far out of touch!

    Kathy, it's worth your while — the best book I know of about medieval cosmology, permeated by Lewis' love and respect for the culture whose vision of the universe he's chronicling.

    Eric, oh, it won't go away completely; it never does. What happens is that all the people who are into occultism or the like because it's fashionable drift off into something else, leaving the core of people who are seriously interested in it to keep going. Those groups that are too dependent on the fashionistas perish; those that have modest budgetary requirements and can handle being on the fringes for a while typically thrive. I'm sure you know which of these categories AODA is setting itself up to resemble… 😉

    Tony, no argument there. I don't use pharmaceutical drugs, partly because of the obscene cost and the profiteering that drives it, partly because they tend to leave me sicker than I was before I took them — which herbs, cell salts, Do-In, et al. don't do.

  76. JMG, Alnusincana, Quinthemighty, ChemEng, et al

    Re. Trust

    I'm glad this issue was raised. For what its worth, here is how I approached the issue. I wanted to find a means to personally verify some aspect of JMG's worldview without a great deal of prior investment … say like 10 years of magical training.

    I though the best place to start was divination. Here there is the potential for objectively verifiable results that would give a go/no go indication up front. The results so far have been interesting. I used a slightly modified form of the geomancy JMG teaches. I needed to modify it so that it gives a 50/50 chance of a positive/negative answer so the results can be scored against objectively verifiable events. To date (with the test conducted over almost a year) the results are in the order of 1 in 100 million that only chance is involved (n = 64, x = 54, z = 5.500). I'm not offering proof here; I'm suggesting a process one could go through to verify part of what JMG has to say for oneself.

    I've had a variety of personal responses to these results. Initially I found the results disturbing. I checked for systemic errors. I wrote out a 30 page paper to myself to explicitly state my process and check my work. I couldn't find anything amiss in my use of statistics or the process (but maybe someone else can). Now I'm more disturbed when I make an incorrect divination. “What did I do wrong this time?” Do I believe geomancy works? Hmm … all I can say is that its worked much of the time for me so far.

    Is this enough for me or anyone else to accept every scrap of “rejected knowledge” on offer? Of course not. Its good to be cautious and stay cautious. On the other hand, its also good to accept reality as it presents itself however weird it may be. I'd suggest an engineering approach. Does some piece of knowledge have utility? That is to say, does it have an application where it appears to work? Its enough that it works (or at least appears to); ideally based on personal experience. Mutually exclusive theories are just fine so long as each is used where it works. This situation is quite normal in science and engineering; and in many other fields. But there is no reason to completely accept a theory until the underlying phenomena has been reasonably demonstrated.

    Having demonstrated to myself that divination appears to work, where do I go from there? I can't say I know. Certainly the results are sufficiently positive for me to give some credence to what JMG may have to say. The ideal case would be to take baby steps and with each step of personal experience (and so proof) gain greater confidence in the knowledge presented. I hope JMG may some suggestions if not a clear (and as yet undisclosed) plan along these lines.

  77. This might be of interest here:

    Up to 08:10 is some notes on the structure of the Chinese language. 08:10 – 36:54 is him reading definitions of the word “qi” from a dictionary, to make the point that qi is emphatically not energy. After 40:45 relates directly to this post. Rather long but interesting. JMG it's possible to just listen if you don't like watching.

  78. The place where I stumble on alternative-health practices (or magic in general, even the Harry Potter kind), is that without a theory for how it works, how is it discovered? What inspires one to try hours of succussion for the first time? I can accept that an (al)chemical reaction may be completed in the time required to say three specific incantations (in the absence of a vibrating quartz crystal to keep accurate time), and that one need be in the proper frame of mind to speak the incantation at the proper pace, but it's less easy to believe that the words themselves have any influence on the reagents.

    Any faith I might have had in the completeness of conventional medicine was recently shaken by the discovery that sleep allows the brain to flush away waste products. It's encouraging to see progress, of course, but who knows how many other simple discoveries are waiting for the right question to be asked?

  79. Agent, fascinating. That doesn't surprise me at all, though it's interesting to see the numbers. The standard approach for learning any method of divination is to cast readings at least daily, record them, and compare the divination with what actually happened; that way, you learn by experience what patterns are associated with what events, and develop the kind of skill that makes it possible to use divination and get reliable practical results.

    SMJ, thanks for the link.

    LatheChuck, the answer's quite simple: the people who discovered these things had theories — they're just not the kind of theories that modern scientists like to use. The theory of astral light, for example, is among other things a very effective spur to research. Grant that it exists, and you then might ask, “how do different material substances relate to the astral light?” Then you look for ways to answer that question, and that leads you into the theory of natural magic. You might ask, “how does it flow through the human body?” That leads to the discovery of meridians and the like. “Can it be concentrated and dispersed, and if so, how?” Half a dozen magical specialties unfold from answers to that question. Since the astral light can apparently be perceived directly by many people — we'll discuss how that works in an upcoming post — the perception provides the starting point, a theory about what's being perceived follows from there, and questions based on the theory provide the directions and impetus for research. If this sounds familiar, it should…

  80. Hi JMG,

    Too true and an excellent way to look at the issue.

    Most of the animals here seem reasonably aware. I assume that astral light pervades all living things? Certainly some things and areas are more alive than others from my perspective.

    Thought provoking as usual!



  81. I'd appreciate some clarification on how homeopathy feels different than the placebo effect.

    Personally, I'm quite odd in that I'm 100% a materialist, but am a systems oriented materialist, while most Skeptics seem to focus on reductionism.

    I trust things like acupuncture and Do-In on a conceptual basis, although my experience suggests that many practitioners aren't skilled enough to cause effect; which is unsurprising since many practitioners in any field are not efficacious.

    I also value meditation, including extreme experiences such as Kundalini, although haven't directly experienced the latter yet. I have dabbled in “psychic” training and had results that were far beyond what would be expected statistically. During this period, I had several precognitive dreams with minute details that were confirmed.

    Many times I can read what some people would say are auras and predict very specific details about the nature of individuals.

    I've trained myself to be able to release endorphins on command in order to ignore most pain, and have some control over body temperature and heart rate, although not nearly to the extent that masters have.

    Yet in spite of all of this, I remain a materialist because for me the above effects are a result of immense intuition, whole systems physiology and mind-body control. I work hard to cultivate empathy and experience of the human condition, and recently have extended that to the condition of Life. This has created a heightened sensitivity for animals and their ability to obviously perceive a directness of reality that is still unfathomable.

    So from this perspective, I completely do not buy homoeopathy as anything other than the placebo effect, because it is a material preparation without a material explanation. Your definition of magic is very compelling to me because thus far it hasn't directly confronted non-materialist explanations. Perhaps I'm just daft to acknowledge most things on your list of the X-factor, only to leave out a narrow subset, and look forward to seeing if anything can change my mind about it.


  82. JMG

    I understand the method you indicated is good for learning a divination system. What I was doing was a little different. I was trying to test a system more than learn it (though I ended up doing both).

    The big problem in testing most divination systems is the ambiguity of the oracle's answer. There is nothing wrong with a subjective satisfaction with an oracle's response, but of itself, it does not constitute rigorous proof that the system works.

    To avoid the problem of ambiguous answers and purely subjective satisfaction (or not) with these, I intentionally striped the system down to its most basic: I asked questions for which “Yes” or “No” were appropriate answers to objectively verifiable events that either occurred or did not occur within a specified time. In so doing, I realize I deliberately removed much of the subtly (and so power) of the system. Interpretation was still required since each geomatic figure can have an opposite meaning depending on the context. Nonetheless, so long as the interpretation in a given context is consistent, even this ambiguity can be removed.

    All this to say, just learning and applying a divination system does not rigorously test it. If people wish to test divination, so a to test your world view, they need to be much more careful. This sort of test is not everyone’s cup of tea; but for those inclined in this way – you know the type: middle aged engineers who are good for nothing but crunching numbers 😉 – I'd say to them to test it for themselves.

    As I wrote before. I'm not too sure where to go from here though.

  83. About trends and fads in occultism and the consequences of this faddism fading… it's generally not a “good” thing for a religion for it to be hit by one of these waves — look at what the ongoing evangelical boom is doing to Christianity, or what islamic extremism is doing to Islam. And, when it comes to deep, thoughtful, sincere religious practice, almost by definition this will never be something undertaken by more than a small minority of a community. You only need one Shaman, Priest, Imam, Rabbi, etc. per village, after all, and she or he only needs a few serious students and assistants.

    I've actually noticed, perhaps as a part of this fading boom, that the neopagan community is spending less time on factionalism and interdenominational bickering than it did 20 years ago. In the 80s and early 90s you could start a veritable war by publicly expressing your opinions as to whether Wicca was a bona-fide “paleopagan” survival or an eclectic 20th century invention. Not so many people seem to be concerned about this anymore. And the battles between strict recontructionists versus modern revivalists in the Norse and Celtic spheres seem to have dulled to a low simmer (though you, JMG, might have a different perspective on this being much closer to that particular matter).

    Anyway, though it might feel lonelier, less noise and flash doesn't seem like a bad thing for those who are interested in actual substance, from my perspective. And of course, one of the aftereffects of a “boom” is that some aspects of the counter-culture stop being “counter” and get assimilated into the mainstream. This may not be a “good” thing, but at least it means you are not seen as being quite so “weird.”

  84. Re: the process of developing theories and practices — wasn't it Starhawk who wrote, “Skeptics make the best magicians.”

    Of course that was back before “skeptic” had become synonymized with “material atheist fundamentalist” and just meant “show me some results.”

  85. JMG – I've been waffling for the last two days on whether to ask you this, but they say the only stupid question is the one you don't ask, don't they?

    Do you have any advice or suggestions for someone who wants to believe in magic and can't manage to trust their own experiences? I have no doubt that other people are capable of interfacing with the world on more levels than rationalist ideology allows, but I doubt anything I perceive/experience myself; I always wind up treating the perception as questionable or the evidence as explainable by other means. The first person I knew who claimed to offer magical instruction of any kind wound up using the trust and prestige he got as a means to get sex from impressionable teenagers, and I've been gunshy ever since.

  86. For several years I've had a serious question and maybe someone here can address it…could accidental or random succession happen? The reason I ask is the following: my husband works in municipal water treatment. Obviously there are many hazardous chemicals, pharmaceuticals, etc. that are released into surface and sometimes ground water. Because of the processes used, hypothetically – a chemical undergoing dilution during regular water treatment and transmission could be subjected to pump or other vibrations which result in a type of succussion. If so, would that now highly diluted chemical or drug still maintain its hazardous properties? I know this question is out there, but ever since I became familiar with and successfully used homeopathy to treat poison ivy and muscle injury, I have wondered about the possibility of agricultural run off or pharmaceuticals becoming even more dangerous because of the “homeopathic process” they might undergo.

  87. Witnessing this is amazing. I have no experience at all with the kind of medicine you describe, so my mind took for granted the general opinion about any homeopathic-like treatment, dismissing it, in the best case. But again, it's not hard to see the doublethink in the official scientific speech. For example, when talking about the universe and black holes, that speech embraces mystery and fascination, so whatever unknown out there is already considered science. Something similar happens when the topic is the human brain. However, the unknown is left outside the practitioner's office even if it works, only because science doesn't understand how it works, or because whatever was not discovered in a Western laboratory in the last decades is not officially medicine.

    According to me, it's a very short-sighted approach. I see current science as a building where scientists are piled in the loft, from where they dismiss the lower levels and even claim they don't exist, without expecting to crumble any day soon.

    Thank you JMG for my new pair of glasses.

    Jordi Cano

  88. About the X factor/astral light, you say, “It can be detected easily enough by its effects on living things—animals, plants, and cells in laboratory cultures respond to it as well as human beings—but attempts to detect it using any other means have produced extremely equivocal results.”

    Since you mention that its effects are quite predictable and easy to observe biologically (although not chemically) once you know what you're looking for, I would suspect that some people who are willing to accept scientific ostracism have probably fleshed out a decent theory, or at least a broad set of observations, to explain what is going on in terms of the astral light. Do you know of any clear, reasonably scientific (even if not accepted as such) literature on the astral light that might help explain it to an open-minded person with a science background? I'm interested in learning about it rather than debunking it, since its inclusion in most languages except that of modern scientific thought would indicate that it's either “objectively” real, or that it's at least a near-universal aspect of how human minds work.

  89. Cherokee, the astral light is in all things, whether we call them living or nonliving. Yes, it's stronger in some places, things, beings, and people than in others.

    Mikkel, that's rather like trying to explain the difference between masturbation and sexual intercourse to someone who insists that sex partners don't exist. Are you at all familiar with Eric Berne's Games People Play? One of the games he didn't discuss, though it's one every occultist knows all too well, is called “Make me believe you.” It's very common on the skeptical end of the internet, and a wonderful waste of time for those who have time to waste, since the person playing it just has to keep on saying “No, that evidence isn't good enough.”

    You're perfectly free to believe that magic is all psychology; for that matter, you're perfectly free to believe that it's all bosh, or the work of evil spirits, or one of the Flying Spaghetti Monster's contributions to the cosmos. In the posts ahead, though, I'll be using mental models that involve the astral light to explain what I know about magic, and if you can't even allow the possibility that such a thing exists, you're going to have a hard time following the discussion.

    Agent, where you go from here depends entirely on where you want to get to, as the Cheshire Cat pointed out to Alice. If you want to keep on trying to put divination to the test, that's one thing; if you want to use it, that's quite another.

    Bill, actually, I've also noted a decline in the number of Reconstructionist trolls I have to deal with. That's tolerably common when a spiritual movement falls out of favor; the focus shifts from claiming a bigger share of the pie to sheer survival, and behavior changes accordingly. Now of course you're quite right that the end of a fad isn't the end of a tradition; to some extent, what happens after one of these thirty- to forty-year periods of popularity is that the crowds who follow fashion go away, and the people who are there to do the work have less interruption. It still takes some amount of retooling to get by without the income from the crowds.

    Laylah, my advice is not to worry about belief. Take up some system of magical practice that appeals to you, bracket the question of belief, and stick with the daily practices of the tradition, day in, day out. In due time, you won't have to believe; you'll know.

    Karen, when poisons go through homeopathic processing, they become their own antidotes. If industrial or pharmaceutical chemicals went through natural succussion, that'd be great, because the succussed substance would counteract the effects of the crude substance in living things.

    Jordi, you're welcome, and thank you!

    Onething, true enough, though it really belongs in both discussions.

  90. Is Morton Smith's “Was Jesus a Magician?” worth reading? Likewise Helen Ingram's Ph.D thesis on Jesus the Magician as a follow-on to Smith, partly published on the web?

  91. JMG,

    Sorry for this series of questions/comments. I hope you do not think I'm just being obstinate. I guess I should have been clearer in my implied question. Yes, I could (and will) keep score on my divinations that can be scored (why not?). And yes, I intend to actually use divination as such (not just to put it to the test).

    However, what I was really asking is where to go from divination.

    Laylah's comment brought up the issue of trust again in a poignant way. Given what she has seen, her hesitation is understandable. I am in much the same situation; as I expect many of your readers are. I could go on at great length about my experiences of broken trust but I think it is sufficient to note that there is considerable fraud in the occult as there is in so many other fields of life including science and religion.

    The problem is how to winnow the wheat from the chaff; assuming there is any wheat at all. How does one tell the good teaching from the bad? Even sincerity of both teacher and students is not enough; though this is certainly a necessary condition for success.

    In the specific case of magic, I have no way to answer these questions as I have no personal knowledge of those who pursue this path. Basically I'll just have to try it myself and see where it leads. Nonetheless, doing so with the nagging suspicion that it may go nowhere saps ones enthusiasm and motivation.

    Basically I'm looking for suggestions on how to proceed that yields maximum verifiable results with the minimum of investment. I figured divination was a good start. “Minimum” here does not be “zero”; it just means the least amount to provide results that are sufficiently significant to justify the effort. Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not looking for the easy “Royal Road” in magic. What I'm looking for is not to be snookered … i.e. a way to proceed methodically and with building confidence that I'm not being misled.

    It may be that you have already answered this question in your reply to Laylah. If so, thank you.

  92. I am trying to understand Mikkel's post. I find the point interesting because of my own tendency to consider all things as in some way physical/related to the physical.

    Despite Mikkel saying he has experienced several occult phenomena even including precognition, he says this:

    “Yet in spite of all of this, I remain a materialist because for me the above effects are a result of immense intuition, whole systems physiology and mind-body control.”

    That's the part I don't get. What might immense intuition consist of?
    As for me, on homeopathy, I do not doubt that it does have a material explanation. But that is largely because I consider the subtle planes that we cannot sense with the 5 senses to also be material.
    Mikkel says he chalks it up to placebo because “it is a material preparation without a material explanation.”
    Certainly this is one of the three fallacies that this post was about, that the effect did not occur because we don't know exactly how it was done.

    The situation might be perplexing, but is it really wise to decide on that basis that it must be placebo?

    Personally, I get a little tired of placebo explanations, because although I know it is real enough, I think it is waaaaay overused as an explanation. There are so many times when one expects a result and gets nothing! For example, Anacin or Excedrin is almost 100% reliable in getting rid of my headaches, yet sometimes they do not.
    Or my success with a homeopathic remedy for flu – I fully thought I had discovered the surefire remedy for flu – but got no result when I took it again and it has taken a few years of experimentation and some reading to realize that just because winter illnesses are often referred to as flu, many are not. Having gone more than 10 years with no result from this remedy (I don't get sick all that often) I tried it recently and it worked just like the first time, and in the same time frame of 1-2 hours for significant relief.

  93. JMG- “Since the astral light can apparently be perceived directly by many people –“

    Ah, well. That makes all the difference. From the smallest accidental observation can great technologies grow. I recently heard the story that JC Maxwell discovered radio waves after noting a clicking sound on a telephone circuit when a nearby circuit was connected. There was no structural connection, so something spooky was going on! From clicks in the earpiece to Maxwell's unification of electricity and magnetism to trans-atlantic amateur radio, it was just a matter of evolution.

  94. Re: Maxwell, a correction! According to the Wikipedia on History of Radio, Maxwell predicted electromagnetic radiation in 1873, several years before the observation of anomalous clicks in a telephone receiver (1878). Still, the observation preceded Hertz's demonstration of radio waves (1887).

  95. I'm glad to have found this other blog of yours, JMG.

    As someone who has benefited from homeopathy, I pretty much agree with your analysis. One point where I'll differ is that if you take a remedy that doesn't match your symptoms, It won't have any noticeable effect at all. That's true for enough people in enough situations that it gets repeated often enough in homeopathic literature, but not all homeopaths agree on that, and my experience doesn't either.

    I have taken plenty of different homeopathic remedies, and rarely has there bee an instance that I haven't noticed an effect. If the remedy is not the right one, it will usually just “shift things around” a bit, I might feel better in some ways and worse in others, but no better overall. Some remedies have even made me feel worse overall. I think there are few out there as sensitive as I am so most people won't have that experience.

    I personally see it that any remedy has an effect of the vital force, depending on the personal situation of whoever is taking it, it may be noticeable at once. I remember reading a warning by James Tyler Kent about the ability of remedies to cause harm in certain situations, and was able to find it again through google search, from his “Lectures on Homeopathic Materia Medica”. Kent states, “After you have seen a great many cases you will find you have killed some of them. If our medicines were not powerful enough to kill folks, they would not be powerful enough to cure sick folks.”

    The people whom Kent states were killed were those who were already quite sick and vulnerable to the wrong disturbance in the vital force, and wouldn't have had anywhere near that effect on a healthy person. They of course don't have anything like a “lethal dose” that Randi pretended, as they don't have any physical poisons in them. Nonetheless they have the potential to cause harm as well as healing. The context of Ken't quote was in discussing higher potencies, which have a lot more of that potential.

    On a similar note, the Bach flower remedies which are prepared somewhat similarly to homeopathic remedies, are often said to only affect emotions, not anything else in the body, although a few sources will admit some of them having a few effects on physical symptoms. Having tried a few of them, I do notice an effect but similar to homeopathy, they affect mind and body both. I really don't see how it would be possible for something working with the vital force to affect only emotions and nothing else, Bach's system seems over-simplistic to me.

    I once had skepticism of homeopathy and the vital force in general but now just have way too much personal experience to doubt it, even though my understanding of it is pretty limited. I don't think there's many out there as sensitive to it as me so it may take most people a lot more of their own experimenting to come to that point.

  96. Part 2

    That leads to a question, I have though about starting a magical practice and have picked up some books, including some of yours, JMG. I have run into a weird situation. Despite my extreme sensitivity with regards to other people, places, and things (It goes way beyond homeopathy, different places and situations have such different “vibes” that I can feel pretty intensely on many occasions), I've had the opposite situation with regards to even basic exercises that are supposed to work magic on myself. I do a sort of meditation but none of the methods I read about anywhere worked well. If I'm somewhere comfortable I can relax my mind and body to a state that's good for contemplation, none of the meditation positions I've read about have facilitated that however. I have your “Druid Magic Handbook” and have tried your basic exercise that involves pushing and pulling your hands a little bit away from each other and have never felt anything from that, even as I was feeling plenty from the environment around me. I hope I can learn something of why I would have such a mismatch in sensitivity.

  97. JMG —
    There is a “Homeopathic Formulary of the United States” which attempts to list standardized dilutions and identities of homeopathic products. If you buy a homeopathic prep in a store, it will often have 'HPUS' after the name on the label. Do you (or anyone else here) know how it's decided what makes it into the HPUS? –or what does not? Among occult practitioners, is the HPUS thought to be a good thing, or possibly an attempt to rope homeopathy into the control systems of the pharmaceutical industry?

  98. John, I found Smith's book intriguing, though you'll benefit from checking his assertions against primary sources. I haven't read Ingram's thesis thus can't comment on it.

    Agent, not a problem — I wasn't at all sure what you were asking for, so clarification is good. If you're interested in exploring magic, the advice I'd offer is pretty much the same as I gave to Laylah: find a system that appeals to you, take up the practices, and see where it leads. I understand the issue of trust, and heartily agree that there are plenty of frauds out there; for this reason I always encourage people to start out on their own, following instructions out of a book, and get some familiarity with the practice before considering joining an organization or studying under a personal teacher. A year or so of daily practice of any system of magic will give you some sense of what it can do; I realize that that sounds like quite an investment, but that's what it takes. More on this in a future post.

    Onething, exactly — there are a lot of things labeled “flu” that aren't, and since homeopathy works with specific symptom pictures and not with categories like “flu,” you have to gauge the remedy you take by the specific symptoms you have or you won't get results. One of the reasons I find the cell salts so useful is that each cell salt covers a much broader range of symptoms — but even there, what gets called “flu” might be treated with any of three or four different salts.

    LatheChuck, fascinating — I hadn't heard that story, but it makes perfect sense. Sensing the astral light is something most people do all the time, though in modern industrial societies we're taught not to pay attention to it. I'll be discussing that, and presenting some exercises, in future posts.

    Ozark, fascinating. I don't use high-dilution homeopathics at all — the cell salts are my medicine of choice — and so haven't encountered the effect you mention. As for magic, it's a mistake to expect immediate results; the first requisite is training your mind, body, and certain other aspects of yourself to be able to work magic effectively, and only after that training has gotten well under way can you expect to get reliable results doing anything with magic. It's a little like sitting down at a piano for the first time; you have to put in time playing scales and etudes before you can sound even halfway decent playing anything else.

    Emmanuel, why, yes — in point of fact, the HPUS has a website, and the question you asked about how drugs get into it is answered here. As for the occult community, I don't know many occultists who care much one way or the other; as long as we can get the specific remedies we need — usually, as noted in the post, cell salts — of acceptable purity and efficacy, we're happy.

  99. JMG: I think your response was uncharitable considering I asked an explicit question about something addressed in the post.

    “In my experience, for whatever that’s worth, the effects of cell salts are qualitatively different.” Ok but how, in your own framework?

    Even just saying that it feels magical, similar to some other action like X, would suffice. At least then I could have an opinion about X and seek it out for myself. It just so happens that I grew up being given homoeopathics as my primary medicine, including under the guidance of several professionals, and I don't particularly find them anything to write home about. But maybe I was just missing some experience that could be appreciated in a different way?

    onething: I saw an interview once with a former pentecostal fundamentalist. Their sect was fully into the concept of literal demonic possession, exorcisms and all that. He said that he could tell when people were possessed because he could *see* their evil aura and they would shapeshift into monstrosities. For him, the demonic possession was a fact of life so obvious that he thought everyone else was insane for not noticing.

    Then he began to question Bible literalism based on inconsistencies in its various books. These inconsistencies were impossible to reconcile and quickly led to a spiral in which he gave up fundamentalism.

    As his fundamentalism diminished, so did his ability to see evil, until eventually it disappeared. At that point, he realized that all the possessed people he saw happened to have a very strong correlation with those that he disliked for worldly reasons. His conclusion was that he couldn't ever see objective demons, it's just that his perception was altered to fit his world view.

    I guess you could equally argue that he used to be able to see demons, and he didn't like people because they were possessed but now he ascribed it to something else.

    The point is, there are lots of people I respect that believe in non-material explanations of the world, let alone entire societies built on it. It is possible that they are tapping into some part of Reality that materialism doesn't, but it's also possible that their perception is altered to fit their psychological preconceptions. It doesn't make it any less valid, it is simply a form of cognitive processing to navigate the world. Materialism has its own very severe problems, so I'm not saying it is more correct or anything like that. It makes perfect sense that the Age of Unicorn societies would have different cognitive realities than Age of Dragon ones, and surely it is essential to survival.

    It's just that as an Age of Dragon individual, I haven't ever experienced anything that goes against my conception of reality at a fundamental level. I feel that we have the ability to be extremely emotionally and psychologically sensitive not only to the people directly in our lives, but the collective unconscious as a whole, due to our socialization. This can be used both to predict and influence events far outside of our direct reach and I do so often according to my will. From JMG's description of magic thus far, it sounds quite similar, it's just he uses occult practices instead of material explanations of human behavior. Maybe I'm totally wrong, and will have to see as he progresses.

    Perhaps JMG thinks this is being obstinate and there is no point in engaging when I could ascribe “anything” to my preexisting system, but I do feel it has immense metaphysical consequences. A world with literal astral light has the potential of an afterlife and eternity of self essence. It gives the possibility that we are intertwined with all living beings, perhaps even across galaxies. On the other hand, my explanation destroys any non-corporeal aspect and our connections are limited to rote physical processes. I know many find the latter terrifying, but for me it is quite sublime in its own immediate way, and that immediacy has led to peace in our failing times.

  100. JMG. Thanks for you comment. I'm aware of Morton Smith's rather uncertain reputation, which is only partly because of questions whether his discovery of “Secret Gospel of Mark” is genuine or whether he forged it. Helen Ingram, in the excerpts of his Ph.D thesis I've seen on her site, was rather scathing (in a scholarly way). She says in the introduction: “As a newcomer to both the study of the historical Jesus and ancient magic, Smith’s Jesus the Magician was a hugely frustrating starting-point from which to embark on an exploration of magic in the New Testament. Smith often makes bold statements with little supporting evidence and abandons certain lines of thought abruptly and without explanation, leaving the tracks cold for successive researchers.” What's available is here: . Neither the excerpts nor the full thesis are, as far as I'm aware, available in any easily accessable print form.

  101. Had this article drawn to my attention today as a perfect example of the sort of shift in rhetoric I've begun to see from within the neopagan movement recently. I can definitely see an element there of groping for the exits, but there's also something interesting going on. Rather than leaving neopaganism for something else entirely, people seem to be sticking around but doing their best to kick out the occultists. Could it be a sign that certain elements of paganism have set down roots deep enough for a few separate schisms to take place and maintain some prominence while magic falls to the fringes? Or are ideas like this a common part of the cycle of pop spiritualism? It seems like any of the possibilities pose different sets of opportunities and challenges to individual practitioners. It also leaves some interesting new forms of anti-magic polemic to engage with:

  102. Mikkel, uncharitable? No doubt, but not, I think, inappropriately so. As you noted in your response to Onething, your concern with the astral light has its own agenda, which is usually what motivates the “Make Me Believe” game. As it happens, the existence or nonexistence of the astral light has no particular bearing on issues of life after death — only if you accept the materialist contention that consciousness is an epiphenomenon emerging from a material substrate is it necessary to go looking for other substrates — but I'll discuss that in next month's post.

    Junto Felicidad, I'm not sure which of the current French Druid schools still practice Do-In. As for cell salts, that information is in the private lessons of several American occult schools, but since they haven't chosen to make that fact public, I don't feel particularly comfortable about outing them.

    John, thank you for the link! Yes, I'm familiar with Smith's reputation — thus my comment about primary sources. A good impartial study of the relationship between Jesus and classical magic would be well worth reading, but I sincerely doubt that anybody interested in writing such a study will be able to approach it in an impartial spirit.

    Eric, yes, I've watched the soi-disant “humanist pagans” for a while. It's actually a common theme in the history of spiritual traditions, especially but not only in the US; once the craving for respectability sets in, chasing out the occultists becomes the order of the day, and you end up with yet another bland denomination that differs from the Methodists down the street only in minor details. That may well turn out to be the future of the Neopagan mainstream, but I confess to a certain lack of enthusiasm at the prospect.

  103. @ JMG –

    “…once the craving for respectability sets in, chasing out the occultists becomes the order of the day…”

    I've seen for myself how the same craving marked the transition from the audaciously radical gay liberation movement to the tediously conventional gay rights movement. B-O-R-I-N-G. Totally drained the inspirational life force from it, leaving a grey flannel-suited husk.

    I dipped into the Humanist Pagan essay briefly. You'd think the writer could study up a bit on the classic magical texts before dissing the tradition, but I don't get the impression that he did.

    If one is going to reject magic, why bother being a pagan? Why not just become a Humanist as, say, Isaac Asimov would have understood the term? If this is the future of paganism, then – to quote a character from “The Simpsons” – “it'll be just like Harry Potter, only without the magic and mystery.”

  104. Mikkel,

    Perhaps the predictions that you made were of a very general nature, and not that out of the usual? What were they, specifically?

    If you are interested, you might go read what I said in the second essay from July, on July 31 and August 2nd, as it gives my view on the issue of materialism versus the nonmaterial.

    At the time, JMG answered me that the occult traditions have had the view that there were a few types of “substance” and that only one type corresponds to what we now call material. That is fine with me, but as for me, I have longed for science to break the barrier, at least a bit, so that we might get past the kind of thinking in which we divide up reality – wait, no. That is not what I mean. My objection to the term nonmaterial is just that it does not connote for me any sort of existence at all. It allows us to dismiss it as a sort of not needed aspect of reality.

    In my opinion, science has already delivered in a couple of ways. One is simply that it has made it so clear that there are energies subtle enough that without modern science and its instrumentation, we just had no idea of their existence. You know, microwaves, UVA and so forth. It truly amazes me that this aspect of scientific discovery has not INCREASED the faith of humanity in the unseen. All we would have to do is extrapolate that just maybe science is not done, and that there could be more such forces, even more subtle that we have not yet learned to monitor – such as the ether.

    A book by Ervin Laszlo called Science and the Akashic Field was a good one.

    As for me, I have had a few experiences that are out of the materialist conception of reality, mostly ESP.

  105. JMG
    Is it possible that 'astral light' can be 'seen' in works of art, or borrowed from others dead or alive in the creation of such work?

    I have sensed that such 'light' – or something akin – can be seen through the 'eyes' of others, and can reverberate still long after their time. The material work of art itself may not always be needed: thus recoverable past 'astral light' or at least continuity of the perception thereof?

    Phil H

  106. Re: the Halstead article, eh, I don't really see anything all that new there. To me he just sounds like yet another of those quasi-atheist “techno pagans” who found neopaganism on the internet, not in the woods. I've been coming across those for decades. Note how deeply steeped he is in the human/nature duality, with humans either exerting control over or striving to become one with nature. Well, ain't nuthin' 'bout us or anything we do that is the slightest bit distinct from nature, considering we are entirely and 100% a product of natural processes. We are completely and exclusively animal, nothing more, nothing less, nothing else. He may admire deep ecology, but he does not quite seem to have grasped it yet. There's a deep note of androphobia in his writing, too.

    I also think it is funny that when he equates magic with intercessory prayer, this repels him as he considers intercessory prayer to be a part of the christian background he is trying to leave behind. What amuses me about this is that he, like every other christian I have ever met, never seems to have noticed that Jesus himself explicitly teaches AGAINST intercessory prayer (Matthew 6:7)!

  107. RPC, if you are referring to the same Holy Book I use, we are commanded multiple times later to be like God. Caution is appropriate, certainly. I suspect it is a matter of intention and context, but I am no theologian.

    The 'Make me believe' game is familiar, I think, to anyone who holds forth any truth to someone who is invested in not believing it. Christians are used to atheists wishing to play.

    If you get into a group of folks who trust each other, of any stripe, you will get stories of that are not explicable by the modern worldview, whether it is a grumpy old materialist who much to his dismay has had precognitive dreams, Christians who have literally heard the voice of God, or what have you. In my experience it is by far the majority of the population, perhaps as many as 90%, but no one will admit it until they trust that they will not be ostracized by the group. Once the first person says “I know you won't believe me but I've had this experience . . .” the ice is broken and the stories come out, together with how people have rationalized the experiences. No one wants to be labeled delusional after all.

  108. Bill, I am confused by what you have written here about Jesus forbidding intercessory prayer. Intercessory prayer is praying for another person, or on the behalf of another person. Matt. 6:7 refers to repetitious, rambling, or babbling prayer. In Matt. 5:44 Jesus orders Christians to engage in intercessory prayer (pray for those who persecute you).

  109. I had a post a little earlier that seems to have gotten caught in that period between when you started writing your replies to earlier posts and when you finished. I'll save you the trouble of finding it and repost it down here. I'm interested to see what you'd recommend.


    About the X factor/astral light, you say, “It can be detected easily enough by its effects on living things—animals, plants, and cells in laboratory cultures respond to it as well as human beings—but attempts to detect it using any other means have produced extremely equivocal results.”

    Since you mention that its effects are quite predictable and easy to observe biologically (although not chemically) once you know what you're looking for, I would suspect that some people who are willing to accept scientific ostracism have probably fleshed out a decent theory, or at least a broad set of observations, to explain what is going on in terms of the astral light. Do you know of any clear, reasonably scientific (even if not accepted as such) literature on the astral light that might help explain it to an open-minded person with a science background?

    I'm interested in learning about it rather than debunking it, since its inclusion in most languages except that of modern scientific thought would indicate that it's either “objectively” real, or that it's at least a near-universal aspect of how human minds work.

  110. BoysMom — I'm actually pulling in the larger context of the passage. We have Matt 6:7, vain repetitions, followed by Matt 6:8, God knows what you need before you ask, then Matt 6:9-13 aka 'The Lord's Prayer' in which you are instructed to ask only for reverence, sustenance, forgiveness, and protection, with no specifics, details, or personalized desires. And just a bit farther on we have Matt 6:25-34 aka “The Lilies of the Field” wherein you are instructed that God will give you what you need, trust that he will provide [with an implication of there being no need for you to specifically ask for it].

    In other words, don't tell God what to do.

    As for Matt 5:44, that is presented as a direct contrasted to “hate your enemies;” this is an instruction to you about how to regulate your own mind and heart for the betterment of your own soul, not the benefit of your enemies.

    Normally I would not be quoting christian scripture on a neopagan blog, but I think the attitudes of various religions about prayer and magic is actually quite on topic this month.

  111. @JMG

    I’ve decided not to get the Smith book – I have too many books that I’ve read once and have no real intention of going back to; another one will just add to the clutter. Ingram has given me enough clues to follow the track in the Gospels myself. Her biases, at least in what she’s chosen to post, are fairly obvious; there may be more in the full Ph.D. thesis, but I’m way too far out of the loop to be able to access an unpublished thesis from the other side of the pond (or this side, either.)

    @Bill Pulliam

    I don’t see how you get an injunction against intercessory prayer out of Matthew 6:7. To me, at least, it’s an injunction against repetitive and formulaic prayer. The gist of that and the following verse seem to be that if you ask for divine intercession, you should get immediate results; repeating the request as if your divinity is hard of hearing is futile. (to Ingram, one of the marks of a magician is that he gets immediate results. Or no results.)

    It’s also useful to compare the parallel passages in the other Synoptics. In this case, Aland’s pericope 62 shows one verse from Mark that corresponds to the entirety of Matthew 6:7-15:

    And whensoever ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have aught against any one; that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25 ASV)

    That’s it!

    Pericope 59 (Matt 5:43-48) has no parallel in Mark at all; both of these are Q material.

  112. John Roth — well, having not been raised with any christian indoctrination or ingrained cultural habits, I frequently find that what appears to me to be the simple, straightforward, obvious interpretation of scripture is not the way most christians have been taught to interpret it. Occam's razors seem to me to be in short supply in the halls of Abrahamic theologians.

    So let's go to first principles.. if one believes in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving deity, why on earth should one ever need to pray for anything? Deity already knows the circumstances and your desires, and will always bring about the best possible outcome (of the situations that deity itself created, with full foreknowledge of the consequences). So… the function of intercessory prayer fits into this exactly… where? I have NEVER quite gotten this. And indeed to me it sounds like THIS was the very point Jesus was actually making in the aforementioned passages.

    I do fear we are wandering a bit farther off topic now, though.

  113. Ok, hmmm.

    So the power of prayer, is it this X factor? What about a mother's intuition, or the spreading glow caused by an especially charismatic person?

    When one acupuncturist can dial the Qi up in a few minutes while another fails to cause even a tingle after a few sessions, where is the X factor hiding? Is it the practitioner or the combination of practitioner and patient, or something else?

    Thank you for taking the time to explain something that our culture finds so foreign despite its obvious presence in our lives.

  114. Re: all the skeptics upthread.

    I'm not sure if this thread is still active enough to participate in, but I used to be a diehard materialist atheist sort-of skeptic. I still value skepticism and rationality very, very highly, but…

    The big thing that changed my mind wasn't the varied mystical experience I have accidentally fallen into or been able to induce in myself. I had no problem attributing such things to material causes. What it was, was a pair of self-taught mystical acquaintances of mine who managed to, working independently, construct what I recognized as the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, working only from close observations of human nature and archetypal stories. This impressed me extraordinarily as exactly the kind of thing a scientific mind would want – independent confirmation! The whole thing used used English terminology instead of Hebrew, obviously, but to anyone who'd even so much as glanced at the Tree of Life would recognize the similarities.

    I know that it's very easy to accuse me of lying, or to accuse my friends of having actually already known about the Kabbalistic arts, so you'll have to take me at my word about it, but for me it was a singularly impressive awakening. After all, if medieval mystics and magicians had been right about this one thing, it strongly raised my estimation of the likelihood that they were right about other things, too. Now, 'the diagram,' as they rather vaguely called it, remains an integral part of my worldview.

    (JMG, you might be interested in noting that in the process of working with the diagram and elucidating the relationship of whatever it represents to secular history, my friends reconfigured it so that it bears a close resemblance to the Druidical wheel of the year…)

  115. As a practitioner of massage and Taiji, I can say yes, I practice a sort of “energy” massage, along with the soft tissue I work on. It should be noted though, the Taoists saw a continuum of “Qi”, that is, Qi is what makes up the fabric and substance of the Universe, and also takes on different forms.

    For example, there is “Defensive Qi” that which pathogens must pass through. Called Wei Qi, I believe, it is located just under the skin. This is just one of many manifestations of Qi the Taoists sages classified.

    There also seems to be a common affliction, which is to divide Energy and Matter into two separate categories. If I knead a muscle, then clients think I am working materially. But if I close my eyes, hover over the muscle, and my hands become extremely warm, then I am working “energetically”. The truth is, I cannot make such a distinction. As I lay hands on the body (indeed even before that) I am connecting to the clients “energy” field, and as I am kneading soft tissue, its just a more dense version of what I have already connected to. Its all Qi.

    Its a deeply profound way to view the world, once we stop drawing artificial lines. Sadly though, the trend in schools and in the Massage field is to move away from the “Woo Woo”, a movement coming from the East Coast, to integrate more firmly into modern medicine and insurance payments.

    As far as the “feelings”, one can look to the Five Phases of Energy as the Taoists have classified the nature of Qi, in its different forms. My wife, though, once connected with someone who had just fractured his forearm, felt a strong “fizzing”, unlike a carbonated drink. It actually made her rather light headed! We concluded what she was feeling was the effect of the Qi, leaking out of the bone break, out of its normal conduit.

  116. For those who think the placebo effect is a large component of Homeopathic medicine, I invite them to try a teething preparation for babies. The one's my sister used for her triplets worked like a charm! Her babies would eventually recognize the bottle and beg for it.

  117. Bill – first principles? We don't know what Jesus taught. We only know what the gospels say Jesus taught, and there is very little in there that can be interpreted as God being omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. I've dipped into Medieval Scholasticism a bit, and my current understanding of what those terms meant in classical monotheism isn't the same as what most people think they mean.

    In any case, I'm not a Christian. My theological base is something on the far side of the fringe called the Michael Teaching, which I expect most people have never heard of. It gives me a quite different perspective on a lot of things.

  118. Val, you'll get no argument here. I'm not sure why so many spiritual movement end up pursuing their own intellectual gelding with such enthusiasm, but it fails to interest me.

    Phil, that's a question for a book, not a brief comment here!

    Bill, yeah, it's the same old same old. I took his equation of magic with intercessory prayer as (a) evidence that he doesn't know much about either one, and (b) the standard sort of atheist attempt to shoehorn everything into the narrow confines of whatever childhood religion he's rebelling against.

    Grebulocities, you might try Rupert Sheldrake's A new Science of Life and its sequels. Most of the others belong to an older generation of science, and use terminology that a lot of people nowadays have trouble understanding.

    John, works for me. I don't have a dog in that fight, anyway.

    Cake, the X factor is an entire world. It either includes or relates to all those things and much, much more. More on this as we proceed!

    Mark, fascinating. You might be interested to know that I worked out, and published in two books, a version of the Tree of Life that's morphed into an eightfold year-wheel!

    Bruce, certainly that's my understanding, based partly on Western occult philosophy and partly on my exposure to Taoist theory and Chinese martial arts.

  119. Hi JMG,

    I asked you about Spinoza the other week because some friends and I just read The Ethics together as part of a study group and so I've been thinking about his ideas and how they relate to some of yours. In some ways I think you say very similar things but in some ways very different. One notion of his that is interesting in relation to this post of yours is that he says that substance (which is all of reality or god, by his definition) has infinite attributes. We have access to two of them, the physical and the mental, which he says are the same thing but understood separately. Although he is very much of the school of observable science that you describe (he goes on and on about not accepting superstition or things on faith) he accepts that there are things beyond what we can know that make up a very real part of everything around us. In this way his thinking seems actually open to the X factor you describe, and I think if cases can be tested an verified he would accept that it is reasonable to believe that they describe something real, possibly a 3rd attribute.

    We got into some good debates on the difference between science and engineering (among other things!) around his thinking but I think ultimately there is something to what he said that I agree with even though I suspect he would entirely disagree with my interpretation if he were around to do so. The part I agree with is the idea that through attempting to create models of the world using reason (this is an endless process of trying to create adequate ideas (God's idea is always inaccessible to us)) we can make better sense of it and therefore make better decisions about how to address our needs and emotions. It seemed very much like what you described about the function of myths in the Wealth Of Nature. This was why I was curious what you’d made of him if you’d ever read him because his work seems like it can be approached from vastly different perspectives even though he seems to suggest actually that that isn’t the case at all (I understand you haven’t read him, just offering this second paragraph as a way of explanation/apology for rambling about him to you again).

  120. Thank you for kicking open this door! I have had an experience with oscillococcinum that may be pertinent. I had the worse cold of my adult life when I worked in Santa Monica, CA. I went to the closest drug store, in so much misery I didn't even note that it was a compounding homeopathic pharmacy. I showed up at the pharmacy counter, the pharmacist handed me the oscillococcinum, I took it per directions, and was essentially cured in 12 hours. I had no idea what I was taking, I assumed it was a German antihistamine or some such, and had an expectation of mild relief. How does placebo play into that bundle of circumstances?

    I've studied old school (pre-Great Leap Forward) acupuncture, and now use chopsticks and pressure. I have been told that the techniques provide near instant relief to nasty migraines.

    Remember when a member of Nixon's trip to Mainland China needed open heart surgery and he had acupuncture rather than gas or an IV drug for sleep and pain during the procedure? The skeptics yelled “Placebo!!” Yet were unable to replicate the results with random needling. The Italian/Swiss Iceman had tattoos on his ankle that corresponded precisely to Chinese acupuncture points–for the physical conditions he suffered from. That turns the notion it is of Chinese in origin on its head.

  121. Hello John,

    after reading your last post, and the ensuing comments, there was a comment which I have wanted to phrase ever since.
    I can understand that, as an institution, science can adquire biases about what is worth investigating and what is not, and I am all for investigating the blind spots we usually try to shove aside. As you say, the scientific method is a great tool, even as you apply it to those non-orthodox subject matters.
    Still, I think the basic requirement for me in this discussion is not necessarily a scientific approach, but just a method per se. Because I fail to understand – not only scientifically, but also intellectually – which train of thinking does connect homeopathy, cell salts and the astral light. The connection between cell salts and homeopathy is more obvious, but as to astral light and qi…
    I am not sure which theoretical point you are trying to get across, other than pointing out some useful but overlooked preventive/healing techniques for a postindustrial future.
    The common aspect would be that things you can do with less energy do demand, as a counterpart, a lot more skill and effort.
    But other than that… maybe you want to show us that ideas that seem new, and unorthodx, like homeopathy, are actually rehashes of older ideas which were already occult, like cell salts ?
    At least I have trouble to make out a common intellectual framework in this post's subject matters, other than to beware the biases of an institutional worldview and to experiment solutions which actually work instead.

  122. @MindfulEcologist : I have just read your blog spot, The Music Of The Spheres, and it is a pretty solid essay !
    Like most of the materials I have read here, I have a hard time fitting it to a specific category. It is poetic, but not a poetry. It is enlightening, but not a moral/spiritual text. It gives concrete directions about some technologies, without being a technical article…
    As for a more inclusive perception of the self, my guess is that the knowledge of more aspects of existence, like our own mortality for example, do give us a perspective where we value more a less illusory perception of reality, where the self is fused into the permanent physical reality surrounding us. I find that skipping meals can trigger changes in my body which cause me to feel less my individuality. Just like intense pain or fatigue can also bring that effect. Contemplating History is yet a more intellectual step in that direction as well.

  123. ” if one believes in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving deity, why on earth should one ever need to pray for anything? Deity already knows the circumstances and your desires, and will always bring about the best possible outcome (of the situations that deity itself created, with full foreknowledge of the consequences). So… the function of intercessory prayer fits into this exactly… where? I have NEVER quite gotten this.”

    Seems to me that prayer is more about the person praying, getting their mind into attunement with the divine and also to become a participant and not completely passive.

    John Roth,

    I had heard of the Michael teachings, and so I went and looked at it a bit. It fits in well with Newton's stuff, which I've read. But I'm a little confused about this whole channeling thing – why now? what happened? Of course, I've always thought of the Old testament prophets as basically channelers, but why did they channel such negativity? Where was Michael when we needed him?

  124. Hi JMG – I've been trying to get a message through to the info@aoda address this week and it's failing due to a timeout trying to contact the DNS server. Is there an alternate address I could try, or should I just sit tight while the gremlins get swatted?

  125. Seems to me that prayer is one of the oldest methods of using the will to change consciousness. It also seems that there is a lot of misunderstanding about the nature of prayer. So as an aid to understanding, from Chapter 16, The Perennial Philosophy, by Aldous Huxley:
    “The word “prayer” is applied to at least four distinct procedures-petition, intercession, adoration, contemplation. Petition is the asking of something for ourselves. Intercession is the asking of something for other people. Adoration is the use of intellect, feeling, will and imagination in making acts of devotion directed towards God in his personal aspect or as incarnated in human form. Contemplation is that condition of alert passivity, in which the soul lays itself open to the divine Ground within and without, the immanent and transcendent Godhead.”

  126. I am seriously curious about this X factor, because it would be really interesting if homoeopathy could be explained – even in occult terms. Therefore this is not meant to be scoffing.

    Since homeopathic solutions are only (reliably) detectable in terms of their effect on humans or animals, I wonder if a homoeopathic solution could be found that would produce a detectable odour (perhaps in a spray) to a human, or at least a dog. If that were possible, it might be possible to test the idea that a homoeopathic solution was different from water in a pretty rigorous and repeatable way.

    Since salts like sodium sulphate break into ions in solution, it might also be interesting to prepare a cell salt starting with a mixture of solid sodium sulphate and potassium chloride (say), and compare it with a cell salt prepared from a mixture of sodium chloride and potassium sulphate.

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