Belief

Belief-shifting. A powerful magickal technique. Because by changing belief we change perception, and by changing perception reality changes, for what is reality other than perception?

Suppose everyone knew this. Suppose everyone, by choosing what to believe, could construct a reality.

Unfortunately, this is increasingly the world we inhabit. Aided and abetted by technology, reality is progressively more amenable to belief. Yet “magickal” is probably not the word to describe the current state of the world.

Using belief to create a new reality.

Belief is an echo of knowledge. Belief can reproduce a sense of certainty but none of the substance of knowledge. The difference between them is work: to gain knowledge we must do something. Knowledge implies a methodology. To know about Alaska we could read a book, ask an Alaskan, join a study group, or travel there to see. The more we do, the more and various types of knowledge we gain. Someone who knows something, even if it is false, can say how they came by that knowledge. Someone who believes, even if what they believe is true, is not telling you what they have found but what they hope to.

Belief is useful when we cannot do the work required to know. What is needed to do the work might be unavailable, or it might take time to obtain it or learn how to use it. Belief guides and focuses our effort, like a picture of a destination before we arrive. Belief is a motivation, not an end in itself. Later we might enjoy an opportunity to realise how our belief was wrong.

Knowledge and belief take forms that can make it hard to distinguish between them. The difference is not the true/false binary (because both belief and knowledge may be either false or true) but the amount of work done. In a digital culture we have lost capacity to appraise the analogue quantity of work that produces the material before us, as if each item somehow manifested from a uniform degree of effort.

Belief requires minimal effort whereas finding or making facts demands work. Belief-shifting is magickal because it seems to leap-frog work and jump directly to the experience of belief becoming reality. But beliefs do not come from nowhere. They are reflections of ideals. Not even a magickian can transform laziness into a virtue, because magick requires us to believe well. Any belief will produce effects, but the necessity for excellence in belief may only become apparent from unpleasant consequences.

That the needs of future generations are being sacrificed to the interests of an elite might not seem an unreasonable belief to many. But positing a paedophilic liberal conspiracy (Oluo 2016) will incur a different set of consequences. Likewise, it is perhaps not unreasonable to believe that unrestrained expression of opinions will cause actual harm, but believing it is rightful to ban the writings of J.K. Rowling because of views she has voiced elsewhere (Harrison 2020) leads down a different reality tunnel.

The Platonic ideals of goodness, truth, and beauty are universal. Ultimately, as rational animals, we all want the same, but we differ in our means of realising it. Knowledge is closer to truth than believing, but where we cannot do the work required to know then we must believe. Excellence in belief is striving to manifest to the highest degree the ideal in our belief. To be on the Left is to manifest an urge for freedom from what is regarded as bad. To be on the Right is to enact an impulse to maintain what is regarded as good. From the perspective of the ideal they amount to pretty much the same. The closer we align to the ideal, the less scope for division and conflict there will be.

Alignment with the ideal is the Great Work of Magick. “[T]he Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will”, was how Crowley (2000: 126) famously defined magick, but he emphasised also the importance of discovering True Will – knowing what we truly want, which is by definition the ideal. Only by doing the work required to know True Will can we approach excellence in belief, which is how we manifest the ideal as best we can.

Magick can look like a quick and easy way to bend reality by shifting our beliefs. Post-modernism and digital communications have widely distributed the tools for doing this. We need not look far for examples of people doing it and where it has led them. Belief might seem to offer a convenient alternative to knowledge, but the dire consequences of this confusion are now endemic, and so too of the failure to believe well.

References

Crowley, Aleister (2000) Magick: Liber ABA Book Four. York Beach, ME: Weiser.

Harrison, Ellie (2020). JK Rowling: Hachette UK book staff told they are not allowed to boycott author over trans row. The Independent (17 June), https://tinyurl.com/y3u4kuxd (independent.co.uk, accessed January 2021).

Oluo, Ijeoma (2016). Pizzagate is a lie. But what it says about our society is real. The Guardian (5 December), https://tinyurl.com/zz7aqbd (theguardian.com, accessed January 2021).

 

Sigils

Sigils are a hallmark of chaos magick, yet it was interesting to hear Phil Hine suggesting recently that the chaos magickal approach might actually have over-complicated their usage (Ross 2020: 11’53”).

Peter Carroll in Liber Null and Psychonaut (1987: 20-22) delineated the classic process for sigil magick: construct a glyph from a written statement of intention; focus upon the glyph and enter an altered state; and then, after the climax of the rite, forget all about it.

Carroll’s technique was based on the writings of Austin Osman Spare:

When conscious of the Sigil form (any time but the Magical) it should be repressed, a deliberate striving to forget it, by this it is active and dominates at the unconscious period, its form nourishes and allows it to become attached to the sub-consciousness and become organic, that accomplished, is its reality and realization. (Spare 2001: 177)

In Spare’s view, conscious desire or belief separates us from what and who we really are – which is unconscious. Spare, in turn, was influenced by Freud. Spare’s sigil magick produces a symbolic form for an intention, but then, by disguising and forgetting that symbol, it supposedly creates a means for the intention to fall into the unconscious where it becomes “organic” – part of our lived nature rather than merely a desire for or a belief about ourselves.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939)

A process or a technique is a means of causing something to happen. Spare’s use of sigils supposedly turns a belief or an intention into a realised, unconscious aspect of the self. But because he draws upon Freudian thinking Spare is open to some of the criticisms levelled at Freud, including the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s argument that Freudian thought is bedevilled by a confusion between reasons and causes.

For instance: low atmospheric temperature causes snow. But the reason for snow is the air being cold. What distinguishes a reason from a cause is meaning: the interposition of a perceiving mind between one thing happening and another. Cold weather causes snow regardless, but a reason for snow arises only in a perceiving mind that has or shares with other minds a lived experience of snow.

Wittgenstein criticised Freud’s tendency to suggest that psychoanalysis revealed the causes of human behaviour and was therefore a science. Certainly, this is not the case. However, in Freud’s defence, in the realm of the mind reasons often carry more significance than causes. Consider: the cause of a depression is decreased serotonin, but the reason for it might be the death of a loved one. Reasons are how reality operates at the human level.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)

Freud set out by attempting to account for human mental processes at a causal level, but soon abandoned his so-called Project for a Scientific Psychology (Freud 1895) and psychoanalysis was born. It is a mistake to regard psychoanalytic entities such as the id, ego and superego as anything more than theoretical constructs. Through these constructs psychoanalysis offers not causes but reasons for various types of human experiences. Freud may have wanted to intervene at the level of causality, but the degree to which therapy is effective lies in its exploration of reasons for suffering, offering possibilities to change the meanings we ascribe to experience rather than necessarily altering the conditions that cause it.

What chaos magick incorporated from Freud, via Spare, is perhaps a similar preference for causes rather than reasons. However, the skeptics who insist that magick does not work are correct in the sense that magick does indeed lack any basis in causality. Instead, it operates at the level of mind, of reason. Where the skeptics go wrong is in supposing that by “mind” is meant something not wholly sufficient in itself nor quite real.

Carroll’s procedure for sigil magick yields results, but it does not work (in the sense of causing something to happen). Alan Chapman and I made the experiment of messing around with Carroll’s technique, sometimes leaving out the altered state of consciousness, sometimes intentionally remembering the sigil and/or the desire it represented after the ritual. Guess what? The magick still bore results.

Servitors are another staple of chaos magickal practice: these are thoughtforms or entities created by the magician to perform a specific function. The advantage of a servitor over a sigil is not having to start a working completely from scratch. If you need to heal someone or find a new job or a place to a live, you fire up the servitor previously designed for the purpose. Yet this evidently contradicts the principles on which sigil magick is supposed to work. How could it be that sigils work only when we forget them, but servitors work (supposedly with increased efficacy over time) if we give our attention to them frequently and repeatedly?

Many magicians will have had the experience of deciding to cast a sigil, only to find that the desired result manifests even before they get around to doing it. This suggests that results from sigil magick arise regardless of whether we forget the sigil, alter our state of consciousness, or – indeed – whether we actually produce a sigil or perform any kind of ritual at all!

Alan’s conclusion:

Magicians (in their various guises) have always strived to understand “how” magick works so that they might be able to do it “correctly”. But whenever a magician wonders “what is the correct method of getting a result?” they are falling victim to the fog of simplicity — because what you do, and the result you get, is your decision. There are no laws (unless you create them) and there are no secrets (unless you pretend). (Chapman 2008: 36)

There are no causes in magick, only reasons. And because reasons proceed from mind (rather than from matter, as it is conceived by materialists), then we can determine them for ourselves to a significant degree. Magick can change and expand experience because it is not restricted by causation.

If we suppose instead that magick “works”, that it operates according to specific principles or techniques, then we enter the realm of technology. I disagree with Arthur C. Clarke’s assertion: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” (Clarke 1973: 21). Technology is a kind of image or echo of magick. There is always a significant difference between them: magick expands or changes experience, whereas technology seeks merely to replicate inner experience outwardly. For example, internet technology connects us in an ersatz telepathy but has not changed human experience itself in ways likely to facilitate the union of humankind any time soon.

Nevertheless, technology is valuable. Meditation and prayer are technologies: methods for replicating certain states or insights. But whether they produce genuine growth and change depends on our reason for practising them. “Magick works in practice but not in theory”, Peter Carroll commented recently, and was seemingly taken aback by the implications of his own remark (Carroll 2020). There can be no theory of how magick works other than the theory that it does not work at all, because magick operates in the realm of reasons rather than causes.

Having a reason to use magick is all and everything we need.

References

Carroll, Peter (1987). Liber Null and Psychonaut. San Francisco: Red Wheel / Weiser.

Carroll, Peter (2020). Magic works in practise [sic] but not in theory. https://tinyurl.com/y8y2l9p2 (specularium.org). Accessed January 2021.

Chapman, Alan (2008). Advanced Magick for Beginners. London: Aeon.

Clarke, Arthur C. (1973). Profiles of the Future: an Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible. New York: Harper & Row.

Freud, Sigmund. (1895). Project for a Scientific Psychology, in: The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, translated by James Strachey, vol 1: 281-391. London: Hogarth.

Hoenisch, Steve (1996). The myth of psychoanalysis: Wittgenstein contra Freud. https://tinyurl.com/y7exutz2 (criticism.com). Accessed December 2020.

Ross, Keats (2020). Pragmagick: Phil Hine’s varieties – beyond chaos. https://tinyurl.com/y6vg2sop (wethehallowed.org). Accessed December 2020.

Spare, Austin Osman (2001). Ethos. I-H-O Books.