Another ‘gonzo’ post – straight from me brain to the keys to the ‘publish’ button. Please excuse the typos :)
Sometimes I like to jump on an interesting bandwagon as it goes past. In this case it’s practical, material-focused magic. Recently there have been lovely posts on the subject by folk I admire – look at the blogs of AL, MDK and DMK for some great discussions. (UPDATE: some more cool posts on the subject: Nick, Alex, Scott).
As I discuss in this post on ‘Manifestation‘ even if we do jag a positive result and our practical magic “works”, it is but a small part of a vast interconnected and interdependent rollercoaster of causes and conditions. DMK in his post says it straight:
Still another reason is a misunderstanding of finances leading to guilt. Specifically, some people look at finances as a zero sum situation. The idea behind the zero sum outlook is that the world’s finances are fixed and therefore limited; if you gain, someone else loses. If my slice of the pie gets bigger, your’s gets smaller. So if you do magick to become better off, someone else is going to suffer, and you’d feel guilty about making others suffer.
However the reality is not a zero sum situation. The reality is that if you increase your wealth, everyone’s wealth will increase. In order to get a bigger slice of the pie, the entire pie gets bigger, giving everyone a larger slice. This, of course, assumes fairness in the financial world, something that often doesn’t exist if governments don’t make and enforce rules, much the way that football would be total mayhem without governance and rules.” (Italics, mine).
I find this very interesting. As a read the Zero Sum Game concept, it may apply to the insubstantial concepts of ‘wealth’ but it does not apply to the material reality of elements of production – minerals, foodstuffs, etc. Many of DMK’s readership (I assume) are Pagan orientated and therefore have some ecological understanding. One of the central tenets of the modern environmental movement is that the world does indeed have limited resources and can only take so much battering. Now we can invoke space mining and exploration to get over that in our heads, to remove the concept of ‘zero sum’, but realistically that’s way off and (with current technology) will cause more environmental damage than we can poke at stick at.
With respect to DMK, I think the zero sum argument is valid in some circumstances. There are limited material resources and what we do with those resources matters; who controls them and who has access to them. Even sustainable resources are created on land, which is limited.
Look at the example I refer to in this post, of a new age bookshop owner who was trying to ‘manifest’ a life where she could go travelling (across the globe) six months of the year because she “deserved it”. If the zero sum argument is bollocks, “the pie”, as DMK puts it, can expand so we can ALL travel six months of the year. By aeroplane. Think about that. Really think about it. At any time three billion plus people are travelling around the planet. Thinking about the pollution alone from this shows the zero sum idea is valid, at least in some aspects. I am sure none of you reading this would be happy with such a world (even if it could exist) Therefore we do not accept ALL negation of zero sum.
A less extreme case. Just imagine the pollution and resources needed to let EVERYONE on the planet live as well as a well paid professional in the USA – with cars, iPhones, flat screen TV, etc. That alone would spell disaster for the world, even if there was enough terrestrial raw materials to make all these consumer products.
I hope this is making sense.
Let’s look at a crucial line from DMK: “This, of course, assumes fairness in the financial world…”. This shows the interdependence I am talking of. Specifically, let’s take the case of African American magician in Tennessee in 1933 and in 2013. Magic for a better job, house, food, life will be more likely to ‘manifest’ in 2013 than 1933 due to the inherent and legal, structural racism in the 1930s. We cannot escape context. We cannot escape interdependence. And to be perfectly frank, I think African American magicians are better off today because of political struggles than magic.
The same with anything we are talking about. If we want to work as if the ‘zero sum’ principle is invalid or limited, it is better to work politically and socially to make the lives – jobs, cars, houses – we are trying to improve by magic available to us, and to all. Again, specifically, without the changes in western society that allow a diversity of religious thought, very few of us would be practicing magic anyway. Our success in magic owes more to the success of the Enlightenment than our own efforts.
Morgan makes a very interesting and accurate point on this blog:
…the documented record of Western magic is all about–weather magic, power magic, legal magic, treasure magic, health magic, love magic–all about fulfilling basic needs in a hostile wolf at the door world. Even alchemy was about the practical nine times out of ten. Yet we in the modern world are not allowed to have these needs or desires.
This is because magic was reframed in the mid-late 19th century as a spiritual art, largely due to the efforts of Eliphas Levi. Now of course there were always elements of spiritual development within historical western magic, but as Ronald Hutton puts it: “Traditional scholarly magic was at basis an elaborate way of ringing for room service”. This has now all changed. Heck, even evocation of spirits, mostly traditionally undertaken because the little buggers had a handy knack for helping fulfil one’s desire, is now seen by many as a complex form of spiritual adjustment.
Now, PERSONALLY, I am very happy that western learned magic was reframed into a more spiritual direction. It makes sense to me. I am also of the opinion that is was the main driving force behind the founders of the major modern western traditions, the two most influential of course being the Golden Dawn (RR et AC) and the Inner Light of Dion Fortune.
In the latter, the requirement for admission to the tradition is succinctly put into the initiate’s mouth: “I desire to know in order to serve”. And entry to the Greater Mysteries requires the “unreserved dedication” to the Higher for life. There was and is precious little practical magic in this tradition or in the writings of Dion herself – except when required to serve the Masters.
In the RR et AC (ever remembering that the GD is not a magical tradition) where magic was taught, we find the Adeptus Minor is required to oath themselves to some pretty interesting things. They are to lead “a pure and unselfish life”. Nor are they to “debase” the practical magic they learn in the Order for evil or “self-seeking” or “low material gain or pleasure”. They also, and crucially, at the Tiphareth point swear to (from memory):
Apply themselves to the Great Work – to purify and exalt my Spiritual Nature so that with the Divine Aid I may at length attain to be more than human and thus gradually raise and unite myself to my higher and Divine Genius.
Okaay. Now this is dogs-balls obvious. And if it is not so, it is also really clear that the RR et AC is a ROSICRUCIAN order – and the Rosicrucians profess nothing save to heal the sick – and for free no less!
So the problem lies in the simple fact that the root of much (if not most) modern magic, the Golden Dawn and the Inner Light, have clear and direct spiritual aims, not material ones. Yet the techniques, symbols and methods within these traditions are so bloody awesome, everyone – even those who do not approach magic with spiritual and service ideals – wants to use them. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
There is thus a big tension inherent within modern magic itself. Now, as DMK says, there really need not be. Folk can take either take and practise both approaches or work within a framework that collapses the boundaries between material and spiritual magic, where an evocation of a spirit to make one more likely to find a sexual partner is seen as spiritual work in and by itself.
PERSONALLY this does not make sense to me. I think we should let the traditions speak on their own terms, and when we take an oath to apply ourselves spiritually and not to use Rosicrucian magic “material gain or pleasure” we should do just that. Or change the oath.
Magic for me is TRANSPERSONAL not personal, just as my Vajrayana and esoteric Christian practice are. This to me is the essence of modern magic. This does not, in any way, mean I condemn or look down upon those who see and practise differently. And while I not am in position to define what “is” or “is not” Rosicrucian magic, it does seem clear to me that the composers of the RR et AC and Inner Light corpora WERE clear themselves. Thanks :)