The pseudo-occultism of the present day, with its dubious psychism, wild theorizing, and evidence that cannot stand up to the most cursory examination, is but the detritus which accumulates around the base of the Mount of Vision. All such worthless rubbish is not worth the power and shot of argument; in order to form a just estimate of the Sacred Science we must study originals, and try to penetrate the minds of the great mystics… whose works bear evidence of first-hand knowledge of the supersensible worlds. ~ Dion Fortune.
One of the difficulties the student new to occultism faces is the task of obtaining solid and worthwhile information. If she is a member of a trusted teaching Order or magical group this is lessened somewhat, though the wise student will always seek to verify what they receive by reference to independent sources. Prior to the internet, the student’s main task was to actually find the material she was looking for. This involved hours of searching catalogues, purchasing rare books, borrowing from friends, much copying and many dead ends.
In the post internet world the main task of the student has shifted away from finding material – there’s way too much to read and digest – and towards sifting out the gold from the tarnished and even the downright fraudulent. This task is made even harder because ‘occultism’ is often associated with the entire field of ‘rejected knowledge’ and much of this dross appears in internet searches along with occasional specks of gold.
Rejected knowledge is essentially every theory and paradigm to explain the world which was and is not accepted as relevant, correct or logical by the bourgeoning scientific academy since the Enlightenment. Included here of course is magic, alchemy, astrology and all the mainstays of western esoteric occultism. However also included here is Ufo Religion, Cryptozoology, Biorhythms, Ancient Astronauts, Breatharianism, Perpetual Motion machines, Walk-ins, Polywater, ESP, and that ol’ standby, the Flat Earth theory. And really, for many regular folk, talking about ceremonial magic causes their eyes to glass over as much as talking about the Hollow Earth.
This is a great shame. While the reframing of occultism in the late 19th century as a spiritual and gracious art has gone apace it is, in my view, still infected by much of this rejected knowledge and pseudo science. It’s kinda embarrassing, actually. Personally, I’d like to see the whole sobbing lot ejected from the esoteric arts and make these humble comments toward that noble aim.
Psychicism and Spiritual realisation
This is my biggest bugbear. To adapt from me book a bit:
Over the last fifty years there have been literally thousands of books published and techniques devised to develop the psychic powers latent within everybody. Despite the high sales of these books and success of the courses, these powers are no more apparent within people today than previously. This is because these powers and modes of awareness are too latent, too buried within the majority of the population. In short, not everyone is psychic to any degree of usefulness and certainly not consistently. Psychic awareness appears to be a particular mode of inner awareness, often developed from an early age but also often developed following a traumatic event. Sometimes people may experience a temporary expansion of their psychic awareness and abilities following the shock from such an event, only to ‘lose’ them as they integrate the event more into their daily life, as they heal.
While it may be true that everyone can develop these powers to some degree, the time and effort required, which is considerable for most people, far outweighs potential benefits gained from possessing such skills. Also we must consider why we should want to be able to develop these powers – is it to unfold spiritually, to serve the One Being – or is it to bolster our egos or shore up our insecurities? The intermixing of the notion of psychic powers and spiritual unfoldment within Western magic is unfortunate and has led to some quite ridiculous notions of what makes someone ‘spiritually evolved’. Reading the history of psychic research, parapsychology and occultism makes it quite clear that spectacular and unusual psychic phenomena can be produced by the most immoral, self-centred and corrupt people.
The Society of the Inner Light had this to say concerning psychic awareness: ‘Psychism is simply one type of inner awareness and there are other types at least as valid and as common’.
It is quite possible to practice magic and esotericism without being ‘psychic’. Indeed psychism often functions at the Yesodic level while the aim of magic is to remake the self in the service of the One from the Tipharethic level, directed by the Ketheric. Stuffy old traditional folk like me can’t help but wonder if all this ESP, astral travel (next door not inner plane), psychic impressions, card readings for love stuff may actually hinder this aim. You can unfold spiritually without being psychic, and your spiritual unfoldment may or may not affect your psychic abilities.
Modern Science and Occult science
Now of course the scientific paradigm is only one way of viewing and interacting with the universe. I acknowledge that. There are other paradigms equally as valid, even if they are generally mostly promoted by an internet that rests squarely on the scientific method, peer reviews and all those other boring things. Indeed there is nothing more amusing that being lectured to about the evils of science and technology by someone whose Facebook photo shows them peering through bifocals.
And yes, I acknowledge the scientific establishment has enfolded on itself to produce a self-sustaining and sometimes limiting institution, which can be pretty myopic at times. St Bob in his The New Inquisition and many others show this clearly. So I am not making an idol of science, but hey, it is science. Most forms of ‘occult science’ are anything but, in that they do not follow logical premises and do not actually make sense. The biggest problem here is of the confusion of planes, which is perhaps best illustrated by a stand up ‘discussion’ I had with a New Age Shaman Wannabee (NASW) at a party who insisted Atlantis was ‘real’. Condensed and cleaned up for ‘G’ audiences, it went like this:
ME: So you’re sure Atlantis was real?
ME: Really real? Physical, shared space-time real, like the glass of Norfolk punch you’re holding.
ME: How do you know?
NASW: I’ve seen remains of the outlying islands.
ME: Physical remains of physical islands?
ME: Wow! How amazing. Where? When?
NASW: In a vision.
ME: So…er….you saw ‘physical remains’ in a vision and that makes it true physically?
ME: Right…I think I hear the cat calling my name. Bye.
When we critically examine the ‘science’ behind a lot of these ‘occult sciences’ we come up with essentially the same problem. Sadly some magicians and Pagans, even GD magicians, go in for these forms of ‘occult science’.
Let’s take two practices often listed as pseudo-science by ‘the establishment’ but seen by their advocates to be forms of science; homeopathy and Breatharianism. To the scientific rationalist they are both hokum and dangerous. However homeopathy, like a few other forms of ‘energy medicine’, works within a paradigm of physical and subtle bodies. It recognizes there are no actual physical molecules of Belladonna in its Belladonna remedy. Instead it asserts there is an ‘energetic’ dimension that may affect our subtle bodies and thereby help our own subtle bodies promote physical health. There is no trickle down of ‘Belladonna’ from subtle to physical; only our own subtle body affects our physical and the remedy is seen to help with the subtle body alone.
The whole concept of subtle bodies is the big break between orthodox scientific and homeopathic worldviews. But homeopathy at no time asserts its remedies directly affect the physical body. At all, at all. The planes are not confused. It has its own logic and supports physical intervention for the physical body while it addresses the non-physical.
Breatharianism on the other hand seems to be touted by folk who simply can’t get their heads around the planes. They talk about physical ‘nutrients’ being derived from the air as well as prana/chi/orgone/life force. And at no time do they explain how the physical body is supposed to be regenerated by pumping the subtle bodies full of the equivalent of subtle body food. Sure the subtle bodies can affect the physical, but food on one level is not food on another. This is why some folk who practice these methods die of physical starvation, while homeopathy – as complimentary to common physical sense and a good nosh up – seemed to do no harm to the centenarian Queen Mum.
In all magic, in all things suggested or promoted to us by anyone, we need to look at how it all works. If it appears the planes are confused, be cautious. Now of course, being magicians we do see strange things from time to time that do not fit into any paradigm – subtle planes or not. Weird things. However – and this is very important – they are not being paraded around as replicable science within a commercial market place.
Natural and Supernatural
It is very common within modern magic and occult circles to come across the meme that there is no ‘supernatural’ – it’s all natural, ghosts, levitation, remote viewing etc – we just do not understand it yet. Very nice. We fey folk, occultists, Pagans and true believers of the weird and wonderful must be patient and wait for the rest of the world to catch up. Again, very nice.
However, hand in hand with this ‘it’s all natural’ meme often goes a valorisation of the abilities, ‘powers’ and phenomena which are being reclaimed as natural. Search for courses and books on astral travel, bi-location, remote viewing, clairvoyance and you will see what I mean. There’s money to be made in them there super-powers!
Like the ‘natural’ abilities of cooking, creating, weaving, writing and art, these ‘super-powers’ have the potential to deepen connection to the One in service, increasing the love, harmony and beauty in the world. Unlike serving up the meat and three veg at dinner though, they can be a source of glamour, ego expansion and psychic disturbance if not wisely handled. The traditional approach to these ‘powers’ within pretty much all sensible esoteric traditions to is to recognize their potential and occasional existence and even usefulness – and then to focus on the main goal, which is re-forming the self to serve the Mystery, however concieved.
I am very glad to say the vast majority of Golden Dawn, Pagan and western magical groups have a good approach, and do not focus on the development of ‘powers’. Personally, I think such a focus is counter to the spirit of the modern western mysteries and the source of more delusion and suffering I care to point a stick to.
Another aspect of the natural and supernatural spectrum is the concept of immortality. It is sometimes stated that the goal of the mysteries is to become immortal:
Initiation is the preparation for immortality. Man is only potentially immortal. Immortality is acquired when the purely human part of himself becomes allied to that spiritual essence which was never created, was never born, and shall never die. It is to effect this spiritual bond with the highest that the Golden Dawn owes its ritual and practical magical work. – Israel Regardie.
Sometimes however this concept is misunderstood and an impression of personal immortality is touted. You know, you – yes YOU – living forever. That is, your personality self as it is now, going on and on and on… Sounds kinda exoteric Christian, and it is, of course, nonsense.
Our personality selves cease when we sleep (and orgasm and sneeze if you believe the Tibetan Buddhists) and reform simply out of habit, structure, Karma or wot not. I mean, ingest a hundred grams of alcohol and see how loose and non-permanent your personality self is. Still don’t believe me? Follow it up with 500 micrograms of LSD. Or a year in solitary confinement. Like all things temporal and in the lower worlds, we age, we decay and we die.
However, we are more than what dies. Do some volunteer work in a hospice. As you get to know those who are dying with dementia or some other brain condition, you will see little personality self. Yet the ‘person’ is still there; they are still the terminus of the Great Chain of Being that is their unique expression of the One Thing. In magic we dedicate, use and sacrifice our personality self – our terminus – our ‘me’, to form the bond, the link with the eternal. This is the ‘immortality’ Regardie is talking about, and the method towards it is clearly shown in the Adeptus Minor initiation (and indeed the Rosicrucian manifestos themselves). It is not a personal immortality, which really is just another ‘super power’ as discussed above, only differing in magnitude not type.
In the end of course, personal immortality appeals to our personality based ego-fear of death. The acquisition of super powers appeals to our personal sense of disempowerment, and attraction to highly glamorised psychicism or alternative theories appeals to our personal need for validation and excitement. There is nothing wrong with any of this. But such things should not be confused with authentic western esotericism which focuses on the transpersonal. And once more I will finish with a much loved quote from Cynthia Bourgeault, a contemplative Anglican priest with much esoteric study:
As Buddhism observed long ago, pain and pleasure are simply two ends of the old “egoic stick.” As long as one is drawing one’s vital energy from self-esteem, self-affirmation, and self-expression, even in service of the purest and noblest of causes, one is still orbiting within the egoic feedback loop. As long as happiness and a personal sense of self-worth are still the measures by which one relates to life and adjusts one’s heading; as long as vitality is the measure of spiritual wellbeing, one is trapped within the egoic feedback system. These are not moral judgments; they are descriptive criteria. And by these criteria, it is depressingly clear that ninety-nine percent of what is being promulgated as contemporary Western spirituality is merely fine-tuning the ego.