Friday, April 25, 2014

Magus Magazine: What is the Occult? Identifying The Unseen.

Magus Magazine: What is the Occult? Identifying The Unseen.: What is the occult that many seem to fear and misunderstand? That which is deemed occult – although difficult to define, does have charact...

What is the Occult? Identifying The Unseen.

What is the occult that many seem to fear and misunderstand? That which is deemed occult – although difficult to define, does have characteristics that make it at least identifiable. The concept of correspondences is maybe the most common trait associated with occult design. Like the Gnostic maxim, ‘As Above, So Below’ the microcosm as represented by Man corresponds to the universe that is the macrocosm. As Ioan Couliano remarked, “Before becoming aware of his own possibilities, man-microcosm finds himself in a universe in which the parties, both low and high, ‘cooperate’ with each other without his knowledge. At the time he grasps the structure of that cooperation, the correspondences between the visible universe and its invisible prototype, he will be able to make use of them in the service of capturing the unknown presences that lurk in the threshold between the two worlds”.[1] In other words, mind and matter cooperate to achieve a desired goal by corresponding with each other.  However, although mind and its conjurations are one, we are not always aware of the correspondences. Sometimes they are simply beyond our reach until the association unfolds experientially. And that’s not to say that the angels or demons invoked by Man are ‘exclusively’ in the mind. They are also autonomous entities that have their own personalities and agenda. This idea is a rejection of ontological dualism. Instead of binary opposition, the occult works off of benign reciprocity. Entities make magicians do things. There is work involved. When a magician constructs a magic circle and an entity appears, both parties are doing something. The presence of the entity acts in accordance with the work the magician did in ritual. 

However, occult processes judiciously negate linear causation as well. This work that is done in ritual- the complex expressions and original sentiment would never be replaced by simple, sleight-of-hand utterances of causation under the pretext that former explains the latter. Instead, occultists present a state of affairs. In the act of invocation, for example, the magic circle-like a laboratory, construction site, chef’s kitchen, or theater stage, shows us the consensus decisions used to create an association. It is the paths taken in the labyrinth to reach a correspondence. Not only does it lead you backstage and introduce you to the skills and tracks of practitioners, it also provides a rare glimpse of what it is for a thing to emerge of our inexistence by adding to any existing entity its time dimension.[2] In the construction of an occult interaction, the magician vicariously activates the signatures of the primordial but not necessarily in a lineal mode of time. What occurs is a completely unique state of affairs built on correspondence.
Furthermore, this activation through interaction is another common occult trait. To cause to function, excite, or react is the utmost goal of the magical rite. Usually the activation of the ‘Pneuma’ facilitates the interaction a magician will have with an entity. The Pneuma or “immaterial ether” is the breath of the living god. Judaic mystics asserted that it was the Pneuma that sparked the primordial air of Hokmah, then the water and fire of Binah and Hesed on the Tree of Life. And according to Eilberg-Schwartz, Pneuma denotes air in movement. It can refer to wind, breath, or life, in the sense of animating power. The Pneuma  occurs in the 1st century BCE in connection with the oracles of Apollo at Delphi: the priestess sat over an opening in the earth and when she became intoxicated by the vapors that arose from the fissure she fell into trance, which was interpreted as possession by Apollo.[3] The Pneuma is the residing spirit John Dee activated to communicate with angels. It was the Pneuma that was activated when Aleister Crowley received the ‘Book of the Law’ in 1904. Pneuma is a mirror with two faces , one of which reflects perceptions coming from the external senses and the other the phantasmagoria of the soul.[4] The Pneuma is innate yet when activated an event or surprise. It is a surreptitious mediator that translates how occultists make their entities do things.  

Imagination and Intuition are what allows the occultist to perceive the many correspondences in their craft. Tarot readers and astrologers use intuitiveness to interpret divination after Pneuma has been activated. Both imagination and intuition are forms of perception. Fantastical reality is part of the real world and it’s these areas of our psyche that make the jumps and connect the dots during an occult interaction. There are many ways in which mystics, sages, magicians, and shamans utilize the imagination and intuitive faculties of the mind to aid in occult practice. Some tirelessly use meditation in order to awaken areas of the psyche otherwise unexplored. Visualization techniques are also honed so that focus can be elevated. For some, lucid dreaming or the use of psychedelic drugs opens portals in the mind. What they all share, however, is the assertion that the imagination is not simply flights of fancy or unimportant debris of the conscious self. The imagination is something unique, mysterious, and transcendent.

Occult doesn't define a reality. It was never meant to. It is a translation or movement that shows us a reflective state of affairs. It is paths taken to reach a precedent or circumstance. This reflectivity is reflective of occultists themselves. This is the reason why the mirror has long been an enduring occult tool. Supernatural folklore is also full of mirror narratives as portrayed in folktales such as Snow White or in legends like Bloody Mary. Renaissance magician Marsilio Ficino wrote that menstruating women who look at themselves in the mirror leave little drops of blood on its surface.[5] And its been long thought the soul is connected to its reflection in a mirror and that‘s why breaking a mirror is bad luck. The mirror is a mediator between the microcosm and macrocosm. It is a portal between realities. After all, if the whole of reality is infinite and universal, then Man(the microcosm) must also be infinite and universal. And since experience shows that the body is neither infinite nor universal, there must be in Man ‘something’ of the infinite and universal. The reflection cannot differ from that which the mirror reflects. [6]

The mirror is also brutally honest. Reflections don’t lie and for may occultists, reflections in a mirror are a metaphor for their own spiritual progress. If they perceive a reflection that is cloudy or if the soul is not sufficiently clean, the individual can be reduced to a lower, almost bestial state. Then it is a matter of polishing the mirror, removing its impurities-restoring to the clouded spirit its original transparency as well as its purity, flexibility, and hardness. [7] Plato associated mirrors with the Pneuma itself. He stated that, “using the senses [spirit] grasps the images of external bodies; now, the soul itself cannot perceive these images directly, given that incorporeal substance, superior to that of the body, cannot be induced by the latter to receive images. Omnipresent in spirit, the soul can easily contemplate images of bodies reflected in it as in a mirror. It is through these images it can appraise the bodies themselves.”[8] Although the body cannot directly perceive the Daimonic world due to our meaty matter state, the soul or Pneuma is free to reflect on this unseen world and perceive it as in a mirror’s reflection.
The occult is much more than a collection of spells designed to conjure demons or gain access to the spirit realm.  The concept has evolved. The word now acts as a canopy for all manner of the strange and inexplicable. Although ceremonial magic may be the centerpiece of the occult altar, the word also evokes ufology and  paranormal studies. Nowadays, the occult is both Lam and Old Hag. It is hauntings and Hecate herself. The word has become intertwined with the supernatural and the two are in many ways one and the same. The fact that the occult has transformed tells us that it has undergone its own rites of passage. Just as initiates go through changes of status during supernatural events, the occult has also experienced a change in ontological state due to ritual processes.

[1] Ioan A. Couliano. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. Univ. of Chicago Press. 1984.
[2] Bruno Latour. Reassembling the Social. Oxford Univ. Press. 2007. pp 89.
[3] Howard Eilberg-Schwartz. The Savage in Judaism. Indiana Univ. Press. 1990. pp. 104.
[4] Ioan A. Couliano. Eros and Magic in the Renaissance. Univ. of Chicago Press. 1984. pp. 130.
[5] Marsilio Ficino. Amore. VII, 4.
[6] A. Heller. 1967/78/ Renaissance Man, Trans. R.E. Allen. London: Routledge Publishing. Pp417.
[7] Couliano Ibid pp. 130.
[8] Plato. Symposium. VI, 6.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Representation and Re-Presentation of the Occult Mind

The occultist is a savage. That’s not meant in any mean or disparaging way. The occultist is like primitive man, largely an invention. We construct what we think they were like. But it’s a paradox. Scholars instruct us to make a “picture” even as they warn us not to make it up. [1] Perhaps we have no idea what premodern occultism was like. It’s our best guess.  Savagery unhinges the opposition between mimesis, a discourse of imitation and poiesis, a discourse of invention.  For example, when we construct a wax figure of our favorite deity, the creation is only a representation of the actual entity. But if we then imitate that creation, the wax figure becomes the original and we are now the representation. The creation becomes the original and autonomous of us. Even the simple act of observation consists not in any reflecting on an entity but in the unfolding of spirit in an entity.[2]

Much of the occult focuses on these areas of presentation and re-presentation of the initiate and deity. This is because the rite of passage affects both. Representations: as described by the occult arts include the ideas, beliefs, and iconography of the occult on our minds. Mental representations such as emotions, memory, and the subconscious are all effected by occult interaction. But that’s not to say that the occult experience is only in the mind. Representations occur in relation to environment. In this way, the mind extends beyond the brain and the bounds of an individual.[3] We see this in magic writing such as curse tablets or ritual paraphernalia. A tablet inscribed with magic lettering serves the same function as a spell spoken aloud because the lettering triggers mental representations in those who read it. This is an aspect of its communal nature. But although mental representations arise in the interaction of embodied brains with the environment (which also includes other brains), this in no way makes the distinction between mental and public representations irrelevant.[4] After all, how we experience mental representations is done on an individual level. As Dr. Sperber and Deirdre Wilson remark, “people do not simply transfer representations from mind to mind; communication instead involves active inference and reconstruction by the receiver.”[5]
But how we receive and infer the occult representation is largely a matter of interaction and intentionality. Ancient savage philosophers inferred that every man had a life and a phantom.[6] For a representation to take form, we must accept that this part of ourself, this phantom or doppelganger can be interacted with. EXAMPLE    Also, for something to be intentional, we must acknowledge a choice between several alternatives. Our intention must be to choose to accept that the occult reality- an alternate reality- is legitimate. This reality as shared by religious specialists the world over is another part or dimension of reality as a whole.[7] We are able to tap into alternate reality in a number of ways. Lucid dreaming, ritual trance and psychedelics are all ways to tap into the this realm of the Other.
A pertinent example can be found in the rites of ancient Egypt. Initiates first went through a purification ceremony which readied them for their ultimate becoming. When nighttime came, the initiate was dressed in a linen robe never previously worn. Then the priest took him by the hand and led him to the remotest part of the sanctuary. The neophyte was probably shown statues that were concealed from the gaze of ordinary followers. The ritual then enacted the change of status that corresponded with becoming the deity. This moment occurred in the middle of the sanctuary. A platform was set up which the initiate mounted, this time in an embroidered linen robe. When the curtains were drawn, he was revealed like a statue, crowned with palm-leaves and armed with a torch, for the admiration of the faithful, who filed slowly past his feet. [8] The initiate is presented anew and holds a different ontological status from before. They have become like the deity.

However, transition states lead to re-presentation of the deity as well. After all, ritual is an interaction. In the past, the deity enjoyed a central place in this interaction. In fact, non-humans had a central place in theology, in spirituality, in rituals, and of course in art which they have almost totally lost.[9] Nowadays, a crisis of representation has nearly left the deity completely out of the ritual. Uncertainty about how to interact with these non-humans has led many religious systems to forget their presence entirely. Moreover, sometimes the deity itself is ignorant of its own rite of passage. Erigena discussed divine ignorance in the 1800s when he stated that there is a kind of ignorance of God, inasmuch as he may be said not to know what things he foreknows and predestines until they have appeared experientially in the course of created events.[10] Just as the initiate must undergo a rite of passage that confers a new state of consciousness, so too the deity must wait until events play out in order to know what the ritual accomplished. Also, if the gods are ignorant of things not yet manifested by their own action and operation, they hold these potentialities within themselves.[11] Just as man has nascent potential that must be unlocked through ritual, so too the deity is changed by what is manifested through the rite of passage.
Furthermore, sometimes man himself is the catalyst for awakening potentialities in the deity. Carl Jung once remarked that the one primarily in need of redemption is not man, but the deity who is lost and sleeping in matter.  Only as a secondary consideration does he hope that some benefit may accrue to himself. His attention is not directed to his own salvation through God’s grace, but to the liberation of God from the darkness of matter.[12]
Ritual interactions are the most successful when both the operator and the non-human connect personally. I don’t mean pure anthropomorphism although the deity may take on human qualia. I refer to a metaphysics of presence that functions as a foundation for Being. This gift of presence is consciousness. And it is this presence, this re-presentation, that forms the fabric of successful occult ritual.
In the work of occult trajectories, the re-presentation of gods are a form of ritual economy. The rite of passage involves man and the deity. The gods do not just appear and then replicate themselves autonomously through being ‘attention grabbing’. Rather, the immortals need organized help.[13] During the rite of passage sequence, the deity and man exhibit a ritual exchange of goods and services. But it is man that performs the high-cost activities of conjuration. It is man that does the dancing, and singing, and trance exploration. Most importantly, it is usually man that instigates the rite of passage. The deity will come along for the ride but its man’s gift of presence that re-embodies the deitic mind.

This is what most grimoires fail to teach their devotees. Discussing non-humans is much more than summoning and banishing. It’s much more than trance or possession to glean spiritual answers. And anthropomorphism is only the beginning of this savage philosophy. Non-humans have not been emerging for eons just to serve as so many props to show the mastery, intelligence, and design capacities of humans or their divine creations. They have their own intelligences, their own design, and plenty of transcendence to go on, that is, to reproduce.[14] Although non-humans hold humanlike qualities or tendencies, they are autonomous entities that have their own trajectory and hold their own agenda. Attributing only anthropomorphism to deity production is like trying to play a three-note guitar chord with only two strings. Although there is a familiarity with the sound, something seems missing. This something is evolutionary and experiential.
Just like biological organisms, there is an evolution of the supernatural. Deities that are fittest or created with a favorable evolutionary trait tends to be more successful over time. The others fall into oblivion or are assimilated into another deity. Some genetic variances may shift as in the case of the Holy Tree. According to the “Golden Legend”, the true cross came from seeds from the ‘tree of mercy’ in the Garden of Eden. These three seeds were placed in the mouth of Adam’s corpse by Seth. After many centuries, wood from the tree was used to build a bridge crossed by the Queen of Sheba on her travels to meet King Solomon. When she walked across the bridge, Sheba was said to be struck with a powerful urge to worship. Upon reaching Solomon, she told the King about the experience. He became terrified of the portent and had the timber buried. But, fourteen generations later, it would be wood from this bridge that made up Christ’s crucifixion cross. The narrative shows how non-humans have an evolutionary trajectory. The tree changed from a seed, to a tree, bridge, cross, and ultimately holy relic. There are also implications of birth, maturation, and death in the story. The holy wood went though changes in status as it changed in form. It has been re-presented a number of times but every devotee who uses the cross in modern ritual continues to renew its potentiality.
Occult representation makes use of an entire network to give meaning to the rite of passage. Again something the grimoires fail to mention. A successful occult interaction involves not just the entity and operator but a host of other determinate factors. The network consists of the magic circle and all its components, the time, place, and context of the rite. It involves the candle makers and their process of creation as well as any and all group affiliations the operator may have. Is the operator a Freemason? What kind of ink was used in the drawing of the sigils? Where does the rite derive from? Was it appropriated from an earlier ritual or incarnation? What gods were used? What were their ontological trajectories? Was the liturgy written on papyrus? Bound in sheepskin? When? These are just some of the questions that the occult practitioner must address before attempting to re-present the demon or deity. This is because there are a myriad of mediations or circulating references that determine the components of the rite.

[1] Christopher Bracken. Magical Criticism. Univ. of Chicago Press. 2007. pp5.
[2] Walter Benjamin. Selected Writings Volume 1, 1913-1926. Ed. By Marcus Bullock and Michael W. Jennings. Cambridge. MA. Harvard Univ. Press. 1996. pp. 151/166
[3] Andy Clark and David Chambers. The Extended Mind. Analysis 58 (1), 7-19. 1998.
[4] Ilkka Pyysiainen. Supernatural Agents. Oxford Univ. Press. Oxford. 2009. pp. 45.
[5] Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson. Relevance: Communication and Cognition. Harvard Univ. Press. 1988.
[6] Ibid Pyysiainen.
[7] Felicitas D. Goodman. Ecstasy, Ritual, and Alternate Reality. Indiana Univ. Press. Indianapolis. 1988. pp. 7.
[8] Robert Turcan. The Cults of the Roman Empire. Blackwell Publishing. 1996.
[9] Bastaire & Bastaire 2004.
[10] Scotus Erigena 1838. 594c
[11] Ibid
[12] Carl Jung. Psychology and Alchemy. Trans. By R.F.C. Hull. Bollingen Series XX, Vol. 12 Pantheon Books. New York. 1968.
[13] Journal of Royal Anthropological Institute. 4 (11) March 1988. pp. 129-132 comment.
[14] Bruno Latour. Will Non-Humans Be Saved? 2009