“Poor idiot! Are you so foolish as to believe
we will openly teach you the greatest and most
important of secrets? I assure you that anyone who
attempts to study, according to the ordinary and literal
sense of their words, what the Hermetic Philosophers
write, will soon find himself in the twists of a labyrinth
from which he will be unable to escape, having no
Ariadne’s Thread to lead him out.”
The occult as a source of study has traversed a myriad of philosophical schools of thought. Anthropologists and Folklorists have discussed the implications of magic on socio-cultural and religious levels but have largely shied away from individual agency as part of the occult process. The reason is simple. It is much easier to infer the effect that magic and religion has on a group rather than make speculative guesses on the causal and deterministic motives that the ‘individual’ makes use of. That’s not to say that metaphysical quandaries don’t have a place in occult study. On the contrary, much of what characterizes occult discussion is based on solid metaphysical properties. For example, Jan de Vries has remarked that, “If we view magic as an institutional technique, it does seem that the sprinkling of water causes the rain to appear. But the person who executed this act for the first time did not in the least desire to apply, albeit incorrectly, the law of causality. Primitive man had not come that far at all; He laid hold on the expedient of magic because he found himself in one or another emergency” (176). Even if the causal factor is refuted, the fact that causality is included in a study of magic shows the potency of metaphysical thinking on occult study.
Even Frazer’s work on sympathetic magic had largely causal concerns. It is no surprise that imitative magic makes use of causation as part of their design. For example, the desired effect of manipulating somebody’s personal hair clippings or clothing was to produce a significant effect in their owner. A classic cause and effect scenario. Often times, the experiential nuances of the occult ritual are much more important to understanding occult reasoning than causation or deterministic structure. Famous folklorist Lutz Rohrich has stated that, “The experiential legend depicts numinous astonishment at the apparent suspension of the natural laws of causality in external reality” (26). The shock of witnessing the supernatural becomes an integral aspect of interpreting the magic experience. But is this all there is to occult philosophy? Are there other paradigms that enter into the occult way of thinking?
Whether it is demonic legends, Old Hag, or even UFO abduction narratives, the occult disregards theories accepted in scientific milieus yet is concerned with science. The occult wants to be legitimate. Many occultists strive for the valid deductive argument form: If [theory + experimental conditions + assumptions] then prediction. The problem lays in the fact that many occult and paranormal researchers tend to affirm the consequence of their predictions. For example, a Ufologist might suggest that:
If a UFO, then presence of anomalous lights.
If presence of anomalous lights
Therefore, a UFO.
However, just because there are anomalous lights does not automatically mean there is a UFO present. There obviously could be another explanation. These invalid deductive arguments are more common in studies of paranormal and occult than you many realize. In fact, even some aspects of Ancient Astronaut Theory is guilty of invalid deductive form. It is known that many aspects of AAT make use of highly complex megalithic structures to prove the influence of extraterrestrials on early Man. They postulate that at sites such as Puma Punku in Peru, early Man wasn’t sophisticated enough to design or engineer such an intricate complex. Therefore, aliens must have intervened. The argument tends to take these forms:
If ancient aliens, then highly advanced megalithic structure.
Highly sophisticated megalithic structure,
Therefore ancient aliens.
If highly advanced megalithic structures, then aliens.
Therefore highly advanced megalithic structures.
Although these examples may seem trivial, you can see the complications that arise when attempting to deductively formulate a sound occult or paranormal prediction. However, that’s not to say that the occult is abhorrent to philosophy. On the contrary, there are other philosophical forms that lend a great deal of credence to the occult.
I would lean towards an experiential phenomenalism that relies on some aspects of materialism for its foundation. This theory would postulate that behavior is based upon the phenomenal qualities or interpretations of experience. The mind would provide input based on experiential happenings and determine whatever output or behavior is appropriate. Subsequently, we negotiate phenomenal qualities based upon our perceptions of an experience. And since we are constantly experiencing, we are constantly digesting new input that affects our behavioral output. This would be conducive to memory as well. Past experience would necessarily effect our interpretations of phenomenal qualities thus potentially altering our behavior. For example, if somebody happens upon a UFO, experiential insights are going to be produced by inferring phenomenal qualities as it happens. This person may have never seen a UFO or indeed have no conception of what a UFO is and yet still experience something on account of phenomenal associations. Whether the behavior is awe, bewilderment, or terror, the experiencer’s mental state will change and produce more mental states. The fact that the experience and its phenomenal sensations are occurring and changing in real time as the experience unfolds is why we see multiple behaviors manifest. (i.e. confusion, to fear, to awe)
Much of what constitutes occult and the supernatural involve reality and how we interpret the world around us. Whereas a realist would say that our world is not dependent on human minds for existence, a post-realist philosopher such as Hilary Putnam would assert that the external world is mind and theory dependent. The world is a human construction. He states that, “There is, then, nothing in the history of science to suggest that it either aims at or should aim at one single absolute version of the world” (228). A relativism concerning ontology and truth, what exists and the nature of what exists is relative to society. As we formulate a theory in society, we construct a world. Therefore, all versions of world-making are equally valid. It’s not hard to see how proponents of the occult and investigators of the supernatural would find this philosophy significant. World-making is a relativism that is community dependent. A pertinent example can be found in the social organization of Malaysia. As part of the social structure that permeates Malaysian culture, magic is a key ingredient in the belief systems and solidarity of the group. Along with socio-political and economic milieus, the magic that accompanies their religious convictions is an integral aspect of understanding Malaysian reality. Although the Western world largely trivializes magic as something anachronistic or archaic pagan debris, for the Malaysians, it is accepted as part of their everyday reality. Because as a society they make the choice to include magical practices, it becomes true and real. As Goodman eloquently remarks, “If we make worlds, the meaning of truth lies not in these worlds but in ourselves—or better, in our versions and what we do with them” (38). By utilizing a social and religious ecology to make sense of reality, Malaysia has found what works for them as a culture.
Another mediation that occurs in occult practice and metaphysical thought can be found in the ‘paradigm of appearances’. Paul Feyerabend uses this ‘paradigm’ to discuss the idea of god in different societies. He remarks that the god that is worshipped in the Abrahamic religions (i.e. Christian, Muslim, Judaic) is ultimately the same God but described differently. A very new-age concept, this God appears to people in different ways but it’s a same reality. God and reality are ineffable and determined by interpretations of appearances. For Feyerabend, reality is pliable and we sculpt the external world. In regards to the Greek Homeric Gods, he concluded that these otherworldly entities were constructed in the same way that modern society constructed the idea of electrons and protons. He remarks that, “If the entities postulated by a scientific worldview can be assumed to exist independently of it, then why not anthropomorphic Gods?” (34) Indeed, why not? If reality is malleable, then all the demons, ghosts, or entities an occultist can conjure are equally valid and real. They take an autonomous existence.
Another example where concepts of appearance and construction can be applied is in supernatural assault narratives. Folklorists have studied accounts of UFO abduction in terms of their morphology and structural similarity to more traditional supernatural narratives. However, much more work could be done with these stories using a study of ‘appearances’ and social construction. For example, for somebody who has had a first-hand UFO abduction experience, their initial impression of the trauma is a legitimate and more importantly, real occurrence. However, if the abductee comes to realize that the experience was akin to a liminal rite caused by some extenuating circumstance or personal Ordeal, then that impression is equally valid and equally successful. Because reality is ineffable, both impressions are a manifest reality or experiential construction of what exists.
Perhaps what really provides ontological and epistemological credence to occult study is the fact that it can be examined in terms of Actor-Network Theory. Latourian ANT theory makes use of mediations to explain the many nuances that make up a subject. According to Luckhurst, “Actor-Network Theory is the predictive tension between the centered actor and the de-centered network, enabling the critic to move across different scales of explanation” (8). Actor-Network lends itself to the occult so easily because there a multitude of facets that construct the occult. Through the use of translations, transformations, and substitutions, the occult can be re-situated and re-embodied. In what I call the expression of movements, the occult can be made to re-appear in a myriad of forms. These ideas are best illustrated in an example: According to authors, Ruck, Staples, Celdran, and Hoffman,
“A drawing of the 15th century Frater Vincentius Koffsky, a monk of the Danzig order of preachers, depicted himself draining the sacred blood directly from the wound of a Christ crucified as a Tree of Life, with an alchemical oven shown as a temple in the background, marked with the symbols for male-iron, female-copper, and an encircled dot, which is the sign for the final goal, the elixir of drinkable gold, and also a common motif for a mushroom cap; the oven-temple itself also resembles a cluster of fungal caps. The inscription reads: “Now learn naturally and artfully, to draw from this Catholic medicinal fountain of the living water and the oil of joy” (34).
This beautifully described drawing has all the earmarks of occult thought. For example, a quick list might include: a Frater, sacred blood, Tree of Life, alchemy, symbol, Male/Female, entheogenics, the inscription, the occult process. But we can calculate other movements such as Catholicism, the fate of the Danzig preachers, the occult in the 15th century, the fate of the drawing, the process of creating the drawing i.e. instruments used to create, and so on. If we centralize the drawing and construct this set of mediations around it in a network, we can use a model of substitution and translation to glean the many meanings in the drawing. I say multiple meanings because the drawing can be re-situated in any number of ways based upon mediations and in doing so, take on any ontological status. It becomes re-created infinitely and enjoys autonomous existence. The drawing then is created and re-created just as in Feyerabend’s ‘paradigm of appearances’ or Goodman’s world-making. It is an entity made real and given meaning through the examination of movements and mediations.