Tuesday, November 19, 2013
Potentialities and the Occult
“What is potential can both be and not be, for the same is potential both to be and not to be.” –Aristotle-1050 b10 ‘Metaphysics’ Book Theta
The liminal manifests itself in a myriad of ways. As a transitionary state of Being, it lends itself to the bizarre and macabre. The liminal is an intermediary between what was and what will be. This lends itself perfectly to occult work because, as every practitioner knows, what is ‘becoming’ is more important that what once was and what currently ‘is’. This being said, the concept isn’t exactly new. For example, the stoics also identified an intermediary step between thought and being. They called this state the ‘lekton’ or ‘expressible’. This was a state that was incorporeal or without presence. Lacking ontological form, the state also referred to language itself. The lekton was the event or expressible capacity in-between thought and being. It was liminal. This is exactly the same as the liminal state in an occult rite of passage. In evoking the particular state, the occultist literally communicates the ‘expressible’.
But there must be a method that transmits the expressible from the occult practitioner. Curiously, the method takes the form of ritual checks and balances. As Benjamin remarked, “Origin, although an entirely historical category, has, nevertheless, nothing to do with genesis. The term origin is not intended to describe the process by which the existent came into being, but rather to describe that which emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance”.  In other words, the ritual or ‘interaction’ between the existent and the practitioner is more important that the description of the event. This is because of the ritual checks and balances that forms a permanent empathetic bond between evoker and evokee. Benjamin went so far as to suggest that part of the creator dies in the ritual process. He states that, “The origin of the great work has often been considered through the image of birth. This is a dialectical image; it embraces the process from two sides. The first has to do with creative conception and concerns the feminine element in genius. The feminine is exhausted in creation. It gives life to the work and then dies away. What dies in the master along-side the achieved creation is the part of him in which the creation was conceived…In its achievement, creation gives birth anew to the creator”.  Although a part of the magician is lost to the entity summoned, in turn the entity gives something back to the evoker. This something is a gift. In its presence, the magician is re-embodied or renewed by the supernatural exchange.
Ritual checks and balances is also implied in Aristotle’s ‘ethos anthropoi daimon’. The usual translation of this phrase is “for man, character is the demon.” But ethos originally referred to what is proper in the sense of “dwelling place, habit”. Daimon also meant etymologically “to divide, lacerate”. So daimon was he who lacerates or divides. However, we shouldn’t consider this a negative connotation of the word daimon because only in ‘what divides’ can the daimon also be what destines or threads a fate. The word daiomai first means to “divide” then to “assign” which has the same semantic development as the root “demos”-which meant “division of territory”, and “assigned part”. So ethos anthropoi daimon translates into ethos, the dwelling in the ‘self’ that is what is most proper for him, is what lacerates and divides, and assigns and destines. In other words, for man to be himself, he must necessarily divide himself.
This is reminiscent of the renewal Benjamin discussed but more accurately relates to Cabalistic thought. Gershom Scholem has discussed prophesy as it was described by Jewish mystics in the 13th century. In his ‘On The Mystical Shape Of The Godhead’, he writes that in a Cabalistic anthology called the Shushan Sodoth, prophesy appears as one’s own doppelganger: “The complete secret of prophesy consists in the fact that the prophet suddenly sees the form of his self standing before him, and he forgets his own self and ignores it…and that form speaks with him and tells him the future.  As it is necessary for the prophet to “divide” in order to “assign fate”, the occultist must also separate from himself to exact a successful ritualistic interaction. Also, many occult traditions embrace the idea of the double as part of their teachings. For example, the idea of qliphoth “shells of the sephiroth” is common to many students of the occult. Acting as reversals or inversions of the Judaic ‘Tree of Life’, these dark embodiments are akin to the folklore of a doppelganger.
Philosophically, the double also plays the role of non-being. It is the difference between actuality and potentiality or what ‘is’ and ‘what could be’. As Agamben has remarked, “what is essential is that potentiality is not simply non-Being, simple privation, but rather the existence of non-Being, the presence of an absence; this is what well call “faculty” or “power”.  The point being potentiality has an ontological status. It is something. This faculty that is spoken of is ability. For example, a ritual specialist has the ability or potentiality to perform ritual. But he also has the ability to not-ritualize-or not pass into actuality. It is these changes from potentiality to actuality that embody ontological trajectories of the supernatural. Aristotle also discussed potentiality and actuality. In fact, he asserted that their ontological changes are a harmonizing part of nature. He states that “actuality (energeia) is light and potentiality is darkness (skotos), what is sometimes dark and sometimes light is ‘one in nature’. Even in realms of the supernatural, what is and what could be are integral aspects of status. Moreover, describing these statuses in terms of light and dark is also something very reminiscent of descriptions of those in a liminal state. Victor Turner says that “in many societies the liminal initiands are often considered to be dark, invisible, like the sun or moon in eclipse or the moon between phases, at the “dark of the moon”. As we’ve been discussing then, those in a liminal state are traversing what ‘is’ and what ‘could be’. Their existence explores areas of potentiality and actuality. This is also why the liminal is so conducive to studies of the paranormal and occult. Birthing entities is ritualistic settings goes hand in hand with comparing those in a liminal state to ghosts and gods. These supernatural personages are only critically understood by exploring their ontological changes as they interact
 Walter Benjamin. Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 1 Pt. 1 pp226
 Walter Benjamin. Gesammelte Schriften. Vol. 4 Pt 1 pp438 ed. Rolf Tiedemann & Hermann Schweppenhausser. Frankfort am Maini Suhrkamp 1974-89.
 See Giorgio Agamben’s ‘Potentialities’ for a more detailed account of Aristotle’s ‘ethos anthropoi daimon’.
 Shushan Sodoth-quoted in Scholem. Pp. 253.
 Giorgio Agamben. Potentialities. Stanford University Press. 1999. Pp. 179.
 Aristotle. Physics. 418b-419e I
 Victor Turner. From Ritual to Theatre. PAJ Publications. New York. 1992.