Friday, April 25, 2014

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.

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