I took part in a working that revealed who I was in a former life. The name given was a not uncommon German name. But the spirit also supplied the era and an image of a man wearing a peculiar hat. When I googled the details they all checked out: the name, the era, and even a photo of a person with the same name (possibly the same person) wearing a similar hat.
When I told this anecdote to a friend he raised a reasonable objection: that I couldn’t know the individual I’d identified was the person intended. Surely, there could be others with the same name who lived in the same era and wore similar hats. In this case, this was not ‘information’ but only coincidence.
The criticism raises a wider problem in magick: how, when we specify persons or places in our intent, does magick ‘find’ its specific target? Likewise, when an oracle provides a message that has a general application, what justifies us in assuming a particular meaning?
Let’s stay with our original example: I receive information about my name in a previous incarnation. How do I know to which individual this name refers? The name is a sign that potentially could point to a number of people. If there were real information here, then the spirit supplying it would have given signs that narrowed the range of referents to a single person. Isn’t it reasonable to demand this?
Perhaps it would be, if we ourselves obeyed the same rule, but we don’t. If I think to myself ‘I will see Stephanie at the weekend’, how do I know that the Stephanie named in my thought is the same as the one I intend to meet? How do I know that any object that arises in my thoughts as a name that can have more than one referent is the particular one I’m referring to?
It seems a nonsensical question, because I just know, the reason being that ‘Stephanie’ is not functioning exclusively as a sign, but as the object of my intention. ‘Stephanie’ is only part of what will happen at the weekend, because what I’m actually referring to is something I’m going to do. I’m not simply ‘naming’, I’m specifying something that is going to happen.
In language, when considered as a whole, names can be used to refer to an individual, but in a personal act of speech or thought – whether spoken or mental – names can be used differently, in precisely the way we’ve just seen, in order to define an object of intention. In this case the function of the name ‘Stephanie’ is not so much to define an individual, but to describe an intention I am seeking to fulfil.
When we open ourselves to communication with a spirit, the only means it has to communicate with us is our own thoughts, feelings and acts. The medium of magick is always subjective personal experience. Therefore signs received, in magick, are often in the context of individual acts of speech rather than in consensual language. The two never wholly match up, but they can overlap. The greater the extent to which a subjectively meaningful experience can be translated into consensual language, the more dramatic and impressive the result. For example, if I receive a vision of a ravenous many-headed monster, I get a powerful sense of what that means; the people I tell it to, less so. But if the monster has the logo of a particular multinational corporation tattooed on its head, then the vision includes an aspect of consensual language, and everyone gets a sense of what it means.
At the moment the spirit told me who I was in a past life, what I received was only a sense of ‘that one‘ or ‘it is him‘. The intention of the spirit has no specific referent. It is like sensing the intention of another person; we feel I will meet Stephanie, but because we do not share the other’s experience we do not know to whom or what ‘Stephanie’ refers. We have a vague sense of what the spirit intends, and we must try to arrive at specifics as best we can by encouraging the intention to clothe itself in commonly understood signs.
Attention to emotional tone is the primary means of achieving this. An angry intention, for instance, provokes different images and associations in the mind from a sorrowful one. Likewise, a feminine temperament feels different from the masculine, and inclines the mind to different images and words. These will suggest themselves when we take our awareness deeply into the intention, but they are not the form in which the communication is expressed. We can arrive at signs, but the original communication is an intention.
Although some people will inevitably write-off all messages received in this way as nonsense, it should be remembered that this is precisely the way we often receive communications from ourselves. We often sense or intuit something from within us that we have to make a conscious effort to feel and enter into, before it can be resolved into language. Dismiss this process as invalid, and we dismiss the possibility of accurate information concerning our own inner life.
On the other hand, we can also have an intention and know it directly without any need of language. In spirit communication, however, that intention is not our own, so our means of coming to know it is by necessity more indirect. It is much harder to clothe the intention in language because it does not reside in our own thoughts or experiences.
The situation is as if we were caring for someone who was cut off from the means of expressing their intentions. We know that the person has desires and wishes, and we can sense in a general way whether that person inclines to sadness, anger or generosity, but we have only our own mind with which to discern what specifically they want to express by their intention. If we assumed there were no intention or they didn’t know what they wanted, this would be to obscure or override the source of the communication, and what would come through instead would simply be our own thoughts.
This is not to claim that if we respect the spirit’s intention we will always arrive at ‘truth’. I see no reason that a spirit couldn’t intend to lie or mislead, in which case its message would be untrue even though it were accurately received. What I would suggest is that if a message lacks specific referents to pin it down to particular objects, this needn’t invalidate it, because its source lies in intention, which operates outside the level of consensual signs.