Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is there ever really a case for the academic study of the occult?

I originally wrote this several years ago for a forum I used to run, however decided that it was time to update and refresh it.  I have added a few biographical details here at the beginning since I feel that the whole piece makes more sense if I describe where I am coming from and why my attitude is as it is. 

I did intend my last posting on “Liminal Whispers” to be my last piece on the social and scientific impact of the occult for the time being but on reflection I wanted to get this one out there first to close these thoughts for a time, freeing myself to write about something more experiential next, probably something new on tulpas if I can get all my material together in a coherent fashion.  I also feel that in getting all this out there I had drawn myself a line and can move on from the fundamentalists on all sides of this argument.

I am writing this as someone whose background has always been scientific and “rational” despite a firm acceptance of the existence of magic and the paranormal.  This is mostly due to a number of very strange experiences growing up that have convinced me that there is a larger reality out there than the likes of Dawkins and Randi can dream off in their limited philosophies.  So for me it is not even really about trying to prove that the paranormal is real, it is very much my trying to live in and understand the world with both a scientific and a magical worldview. 

This has probably left me a little eccentric in my views, which is fine with me.  Frankly I am surprised that I cope so well since many in my family have either gone nutty-religious or nutty-materialist.  I have managed to disentangle and dispel some of the more religious aspects of my family to the extent that they no longer think that I am a diabolist and my mother has been known to borrow and read my Crowley books, not that I think too highly of Aleister Crowley, which is a story for another day.  The materialists are actually more trouble since they are convinced I am bonkers and that it is their job to make me see reason.  However I suspect in at least two cases this is more a fear reaction to their own psychic sensitivity.  My sister in particular is very psychic but wants nothing to do with the paranormal which is really annoying on those days when I need a really good seer…

For example, there is one experience which happened when I was quite young and playing with my younger brother back in our house in Lincolnshire.  We both stopped for a moment and I remember seeing an apparition of our niece, Jennifer standing just next to us.  Aaron (my brother) asked me if I had just seen Jenny there.   I said yes and we were both a little started by that.  We could both describe the image identically including the fact that she was wearing her yellow dress etc.  Since the house was empty apart from us and Jenny was 20 miles away in the nearby town of Boston it couldn’t have been her physical self.  My nasty rationalist mind has pondered and broken down this event for 25 years or so now and I still can’t explain this in “rational terms” although I can draw on a number of paranormal theories to explain this.  It doesn’t really matter to me what the explanation is as much as the fact that events like this show that the phenomena is real and that we are immersed in it as a part of out reality.

I know that modern psychologists would try to explain this sort of thing away as a shared fantasy or shared hallucination or something.  However they would be utterly wrong.  There was no two way discussion of details where this could happen.  I saw the apparition and my brother described it exactly how I saw it.
My education was formally academic up to MSc level, and at the time I dallied with the idea of taking a PhD which would have probably been in a mathematical or computational subject.  One of my regrets however is that I did not study physics to A level and if I could live the early part of my life over again (or win the lottery) I shall certainly take an A level in physics and use that as a springboard back into academia and some hard sciences.  This is more for personal interest however rather than feeling a need to prove anything to the world. 

I hesitate to use the word “psychic” to describe myself.  Despite a number of very odd experiences which are only explainable in terms of the paranormal, my day-to-day mindset is generally analytical and left-brained.  I have had to (and continue to) work very hard to open up to different consciousness and experience the paranormal in a willed sense.  Years of meditation and visualization exercises have helped, however the biggest switch on point was joining the ghost club and actually experiencing a number of hauntings where I found that the psychic part of me switched on very quickly to dramatic effect and I have found subsequently that it is much easier for myself to switch this on now that I know what that state feels like and have developed my own personal routine to activate it.

I am generally my own worst enemy however in that I try to over analyze when I should be sensing.  This is something which I am working on however and it just takes time, effort and self-control.  I can easily see this taking another twenty years or so, in fact it is probably a lifetime task.

Those states of mind where the psychic facility is active however are fascinating to me, and alike those dreams which we get sometimes, that seem deeper and more “real” than other dreams, than “reality” itself sometimes.  I assume that I am fairly average in the sense that most (if not all) other people have similar weird experiences and dreams, so I am frankly a bit surprised that most other people are not really interested in the paranormal or occult except as in a vague voyeuristic way and in fact many people are openly hostile to it.  I have really given up trying to persuade people to be interested in the extraordinary things which happen around us all the time and see myself basically as an explorer, exploring solely for myself to learn and find out rather than find the proof to enlighten humanity. 

I am at heart a bit of an academic however in that I like things to be nicely and precisely defined all with terms of reference etc.  I am all for furthering occult knowledge, however I feel that given the experiential nature of the experiences it is not something which works well within the academic environment.  I have commented elsewhere on this blog my issues with physics and the paranormal.  However conversely with magic we also have to deal with the concept of studying spirits, in fact of communicating with the spirits you wish to study.

So, let us start by defining the term “occult” so we are all on the same level here.  Occult derives from the Latin “occultus” which means “hidden” or “secret”.  The association of this word with the paranormal or magical began somewhere around the 17th century.  I tend to use it synonymously with “paranormal” to denote the range of phenomena ranging from psychicism to haunted houses to the effects of ritual magic.
I think that academia itself is quite odd and in many ways academics are a law unto themselves. They see themselves as the holders and the guardians of sacred knowledge and the only ones who can grant access to it, knowledge which is not academic is often seen as not quite acceptable.  A person outside that community often finds that it is very hard to be accepted or even printed in Journals such as Nature. This causes massive problems in that subjects which are seen as “politically” bad choices for research are automatically ignored. Placing them below the discussion threshold means that this can happen without debate.  We see this happen frequently with the rise of the sceptical movement, totally dismissing (and even name calling) researchers such as parapsychologists.

I see this “political correctness” as the first barrier with regards to the academic study of these subjects.  Doubtless over time it will be overcome and if there is any truth in these subjects then eventually proper study will come about.  However to expose them to an environment of disbelief could bring about considerable short term damage preventing them from being studied for much longer.

We see a similar situation arise with the evolution debate.  Broadly (very broadly) speaking the argument is polarized between monotheists who either argue for the old Garden of Eden chestnut, or slip their God in with the intelligent design sophistry.  The other side of the argument is dominated by sceptics such as Dawkins who insists upon the literal truth of Darwin’s model for evolution; “Natural Selection”.  Before Wallace and Darwin independently postulated “Natural Selection” as the mechanism behind evolution there were other theories which have long been discredited such as “Lamarckian inheritance” where acquired characteristics are passed on.  So a Blacksmith would have strong arms and we would then expect his children to inherit this trait.  Clearly this is not what happens.  Darwin himself however had some doubts as to whether Natural Selection explains everything but it is widely accepted as the whole story.

As far as I am concerned we (humanity) came about by evolution, so I have no time for the monotheists arguments at all.  However I am a bit annoyed that these monotheists are the only ones causing a fuss here – We don’t see Odinists arguing that mankind was made from trees as some Northern traditions suggest.  It all seems to me to be all about a big mouth middle-eastern storm deity who now has a lot of big mouthed followers.

However the problem arises when one wants to study the mechanism of evolution to a deeper level.  To scientifically suggest that there may be more to the theory is academic suicide and any actual problems with the theory are suppressed to the favour of the purist neo-Darwinian argument.  

A number of noted academic such as Lynn Margulis ( (beware Wikipedia is a bit one-sided))  have raised theories such as the endosymbiotic theory which argues that Eukaryotic (complex) cells can assimilate less complex cells to build up their complexity.   Other researchers have raised questions such as noting that bacteria is the most prolific of all life on earth and is also very simple, then asking where is the impetus towards more complex life forms evolving including humans coming from. 

These are totally slated by the neo Darwinists, however I think that Margulis etc have a point that questions still need to be answered, these questions still agree with the mechanism of evolution, even with natural selection as the mechanism by which evolution (at least generally operates) but (as with any science) there are quibbles and questions about the details which need research.   However the political climate has suppressed and largely ridiculed this kind of research whilst it wastes time with the children who still think their God did it in 6 days.  Remember we are talking about cases where peer review and research should come to a scientific consensus rather than a spat between a sect of religionists and a sect of scientists.  A cynical part of me suggests that perhaps the neo-Darwinists are going after the easy targets rather than having to try to break down the research built up by the likes of Lynn Margulis.

Another slightly older example occurred with the dating of the Sphinx in the 1990s.   I remember the outcry among archaeologists when John West and Robert Schock argued for the water erosion of the Giza Sphinx. In the Horizon documentary it was reported that geologists were given pictures of the Sphinx with the head taped over (so it looks like any mass of rock). Many (if not all) argued that this was water erosion until the tape was removed, revealing the familiar Sphinx, They then refused to be associated with the work since it was not politically correct at the time to question the archaeological "history" in place.   It seems that archaeologists might be even less flexible than the neo-Darwinists when it comes to opposing scientific theories.

Similarly we have Robert Bauval's Orion correlation. As far as I know no academic would even look at the research.  Regardless of whether the correlation is true or coincidental it should have been looked at since the work was brought to the academic gatekeepers as a well-developed theory, not a “loony new-age” idea.   Refusing to look at research keeps these ideas below the threshold of debate, entrenching set ideas and reinforcing set positions and textbook sales. 

As a minor digression, nowadays I am more included to accept Andrew Collins work on a Cygnus correlation which seems to place a tighter correlation between the stars and the pyramids and also correlates with other objects on the Giza plateau.  However what I or anyone else thinks is not really relevant in the larger context.  Both ideas should be subject to peer review and studied, rather than the case at the moment where we break into the Collins or Bauval camp on the subject.

Finally we have the case of the sceptical parapsychologists such as Richard Wiseman, putting on a show to enforce their ideas (and hide their bad science).  Wiseman is a very poor researcher however he is very good at whipping up a sensationalist fervour which the media love.  One piece of “research” involved his stunningly unoriginal thesis that scary places make people imagine ghosts.  There seems to be a global academic belief that ghosts are not real and that therefore they must be imagined.  This is nonsense of course, since the dawn of history, consistently across all cultures, ages, both genders, a broad range of intelligence and education, ghosts are consistently experienced by people.  Parapsychologists should be asking questions such as what exactly is being experienced rather the belittling the actual experience.

Wiseman’s “research” means getting a lot of silly people to scare themselves in his academic ghost train, to a lot of media witnessing so he can make his sweeping and uninformed statements.  His research does not come anywhere towards looking at the broad spectrum of ghostly phenomena which gets reported including crisis apparitions, poltergeists and possession.  Stepping back for a moment there doesn’t seem to be much thought amongst academics regarding psychic perception in cases of apparitions and people are still looking for (and expecting to photograph) ghosts made of a form of matter.  Our state of knowledge in these areas is now so tenuous that people like Wiseman; who have clearly and absolutely no experience with ghosts or the paranormal in general; defining “reality” and “knowledge”.  This is a reversal of the work open minded Victorian investigators such as Sir Oliver Lodge accomplished who went into the field with an open mind and brought back knowledge gained from experience.

Wiseman and many others often use a tactic of ridiculing serious researchers or battling the more dodgy and fringe people in the field, then using their inevitable victory to blanket-declare it all “woo”.  Richard Dawkins argues against phenomena in “The Blind Watchmaker” by using the example of statues moving and discussing the number of atoms which would need to move for this to happen, James (The amazing) Randi spends his time tilting with Uri Geller and Sylvia Browne using the absurdity and question marks which often surrounds these people as ammunition for an assault against more serious people such as Rupert Sheldrake, Dean Radin or Brian Josephson.   Finally they resort to name calling. Randi (I know he is not an academic but he is used by academics in supporting their claims - eg the Jacques Benveniste "water memory" episode) labels us all WooWoo's. Dawkins labels atheistic scientists "Brights".
There are a lot of scientists out there with a genuine interest in the occult and the paranormal.  However the noise created by posturers such as Randi and Dawkins or “nobbers” (to use his word) such as Brian Cox means that their chances of funding are reduced to practically zero.
I could go on here, but there are many examples available on line and an attack of these sceptics is not so much my concern as is my question as to whether magical subjects really need a place in academia.

When we do find a supporting academics who at least research the subject and seriously consider the evidence; luminaries such as Jacques Vallee, or John Mack in UFO research; they do produce often startling and paradigm shifting research which is often worth the hassle we get from the rest, however these true pioneers are rare and often caught in the quagmire of backwards thinking from the mouthy establishment which are more interested in protecting the status quo, watching each others backs or the "validity" of their latest book. A kind of “old boys network” kicks in and established myths become self perpetuating in a strange sidereal way as illustrated in Borges "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" where a false and synthetic archaeology and history begins to supplant real history.

So, it will be a long uphill battle to get these subjects ever studied academically.  However I also believe that even with acceptance the academic approach will cause problems. I think that should magic and psychicism ever become accepted there are limits to where academia can go. Perhaps we should ask ourselves what role academia plays in magic?

Should it should be there to record occult history, recording the acts (and claims) of magicians throughout history and if this is the case, what purpose does this serve? Most people are not interested in magic as I have shown above, and occultists will already know the histories of other magicians. Also the academic “fact” ignores the mythic element - as a magician I am more interested in the mythic Merlin rather than any historical person who may or may not have even existed.
Let us take Dr Dave Evans’ recent “The History of British Magic After Crowley: Kenneth Grant, Amado Crowley, Chaos Magic, Satanism, Lovecraft, the Left Hand Path, Blasphemy and Magical Morality” at face value and pretend that it did not have the following faults:
  • Lack of Accuracy, in that he doesn’t make incorrect assertions such as Dion Fortune founding the Servants of the Light
  • Lack of Relevancy: He waste time discussing pointless questions such as how many occultists are in the UK or devoting an overly large part of the book to the very minor Amado Crowley
  • Poorly referenced with a reliance on anonymous anecdotes. 
Even if such a book (or rather the Phd to which this book is the dramatization) were to exist, would it have any value to anyon? It is only recording history within a very narrow band (in terms of time and scope) and has only limited use.

Speaking academically I think his use of anonymous people such as "Starbeam" rather damning.  A historian relies on a paper trail and spends a lot of time looking at documents and other evidence rather than hearsay which is effectively what it is. I have no way of tracking his sources and for all I know he might have made them up. This means that no future work can build on this “history” of magic and I cannot see how this contributes to the sum of human knowledge given its inherent unreliability - not even necessarily because bits are wrong, but simply because we cannot verify them.  His PhD supervisor must have cotton-wool for brains if he accepted this.

As a digression, it does seem to be a factor of both the occult community and the internet community to live under pseudonyms which I find rather silly.  This goes back to at least Edward Alexander Crowley becoming “Aleister” and then taking on a myriad of other names (obviously some as a joke).  However here, Aleister became an identity which he could be recognised under.  The internet, with its myriad of forums all with people speaking authoritively under pseudonyms leaves me rather speechless.

In the world of “Dennis Wheatley”, academic study of magic is often life-saving, especially when the Duc de Richleau runs off to the British Library to look up a rare ritual before returning in time to save the day. In reality I doubt that de Richleau would even get past the guards at the door of the British Library who are far more brutal than Cerberus ever was.

However this sort of research (at least on a non fictional level) doesn’t seem to interest academics and it is scholar-occultists such as Kenneth Grant or Jake Stratton-Kent who study folklore and magical tradition within the context of the occult who do this work so admirably.  Then it is the occultists who use this work to magically bringing through a gnosis of lost knowledge to light documenting and exploring these fragments, which can then be used to form a ritual capable of keeping the likes of Mocata at bay or in reality enable a user to expand their magical horizons.

However magicians also have a great deal of insight which comes about from their own personal gnosis. This is something which does not have a paper trail and whilst of massive value to us as magicians not something academics will be able to work with.   That is one of the reasons why we are all told to keep diaries.
I would like to differentiate the study above of the occult or esoteric; with the study of genuinely useful history and archaeology which is generally about an aspect of life which is interesting to us.  So academic books “Curse Tablets and binding Spells” by John Gager, “The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation” by Hans Dieter Betz or the wonderfully written (and titled) “Magico-Medical Means of Treating Ghost-Induced Illness in Ancient Mesopotamia” by JoAnn Scurlock are all wonderful studies, not because they are studies of magic.  They are studies of archaeology which happen to be of interest to magicians. 

They do not care about whether this “mumbo jumbo” works or not, which is very different to Evan’s questions as to whether Kenneth Grant is giving genuine accounts or whether ghosts and OBEs are a reality.  In stunts such as questioning the reality of trans Yuggothian planets, Dr Evans is failing to keep his work as a history (such as his title suggests) and ineptly beginning a step into a field of magical parapsychology.   Something which (as I have suggested) the stars are not yet right for mostly for political but partially for practical reasons.

Having said all that I do believe that there is value in a rigorous academic study of the history of magic in that it does bring a perspective on the state of societies and how they change over time. It must be accurate however or there is a risk of placing undue emphasis on history and personality rather than magical practice, which must be the most important thing.  The danger there however is that it slowly begins to morph into either debunking under a materialistic world view, or religion under a mystical world view.  With the magic not being present within the structure it will tend to distort then fall apart.

As a magician it is the magic which interests me the most, and a grimoiric mishmash of traditions can have much value to an occultist, even though it is historically inaccurate or even made up.  An example of this is Andrew Chumbleys’ reboot of traditional witchcraft with the “Azöetia” where he pulls elements from Egyptian Magic , Qlippothic practice and Enochian to form the whole.  None of this is really traditional witchcraft, but it can become a working system which could replicate the results of traditional magic.

Perhaps we need to ask with work such as this; which many people find valuable; is this value coming from Andrew Chumbley as a scholar or Andrew Chumbley the Magician? My money is on the latter, the working practices of the magician are imperative. However the pedantic bastard running in my soul also wants to ask whether we are not better working with the sources afresh rather than working with someone else’s vision.  Well, I think the answer to that is actually yes and no.  Yes, since one forges ones own path, however there is value in others paths which show people what to expect, what sort of things work and so on.

However until the politics of research sorts itself out and our generally materialistic society decide that it will open up a new stream of knowledge, magic and the paranormal as itself, separate and independent to physics and certainly and most definitely and clearly defined as different to the vulgar “history of magic” it seems that academically we are going nowhere. Which is a pity since a title such as Doctor of Practical Magic at Oxford University sounds like a great job and a damn site more interesting than corporate IT.

Until then however and speaking as a psychical explorer I don’t really feel the need to seek academic justification to my beliefs and actions. Maybe we have all achieved an initiation of sorts in we known such things as ghosts and spirits exist and have encountered them, have worked with them and even made deals with them, whilst academics are either debating their existence or denying it entirely.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Language and magic

Some time ago, I got to discussing Psychic Questing with one of the guests who was at a talk I delivered on psychic questing.  The talk in question is actually reproduced elsewhere in this blog.  This lady (apparently a psychologist) seemed very obsessed with labelling things and fitting things into these labels, using a hammer if necessary. It was clear that throughout this she didn’t really understand a lot of terms common in our culture such as "wiccan" as well as common terms such as "group". Part of this can of course be put down to the academic use of words which occasionally has become so specialised that they lose any real meaning in the real-world. She seemed to have particular problems with the term "group mind".

All this has got me thinking a little and I started wondering what the impact of the language we use is to the understanding and practice of magic. Judging by this woman’s reaction I believe that she never had very clear definitions in her head of what she was talking about and this lead to her labelling people completely out of context. I feel that labelling people and generalising is dodgy at the best of times, however when one doesn’t even know the meaning of the terms being used it becomes linguistic and social suicide.

My first thoughts on this is that in magic we have inherited a very messy jargon and often peoples meaning of these words has changed, often in a very imprecise way leading to much confusion. Sometimes the words have stuck even though the original ideas leading to these words have died. Another problem is that we have several different definitions of the same word which can cause further problem.

For example we often find the word "Etheric" bandied about. I would imagine that this word entered the vocabulary in the later years of the Victorian era. Physics at the time was working on how light (as a wave) propagates across an area and postulated a "fluid" substance between the points where light is shining called the "Luminiferous Ether" or just "Ether". It is the vibrations in this fluid which is the medium on which the light waves travel, imagined in a similar way to how sound waves travel in air.

I should be clear here that my use of the word "fluid" is not meant to intend a liquid such as the common use of the word implies, rather it is a substance filling a volume in the same way that a liquid might - this nicely illustrates the confusion the use of an incorrect word or jargon can cause and emphasises the importance of defining terms when speaking about complex technical subjects such as magic or physics. Science certainly wasn’t postulating that space was filled with a liquid which would be a possible misconception readers might have if I were to not define the word "fluid".

Anyway, physicists early ideas on fluid were initially popular and much mention of this was made in the relevant journals. This was jumped on by the Theosophists who incorporated this term in their jargon to describe the vessel which carried the consciousness in an out of body experience. It has also been used by magicians, spiritualists etc and was seen as science catching up with magic and as a consequence the scientific terms of the day were pulled into the jargon.

Sadly science moved on and the ideas of a Luminiferous Ether were discarded. One of the nails in its coffin was Einstein’s Special Relativity which redefined many concepts previously expressed through "ether physics" with electrodynamics theory (Maxwell’s rule etc) which proved more accurate. These showed that ether was not necessary for light waves to propagate across a space. It was finally killed off when it was realised that particles possess wave/particle duality so a medium for waves to travel were not required in order to explain the observations. Wave/Particle duality itself is a big problem still being worked on, however it has left us in a world where ether has been superseded; mostly by Einstein’s General Relativity.

This is great because it allows a much more interesting universe to exist (or at least be described) and (very importantly) allows us to frame concepts in physics such as Time Travel which were previously not possible. I believe that in the future this greater ability to frame concepts will have a tremendous influence on magic. That’s a whole different discussion however.  It also sadly means that I will never get to buy a Luminiferous Etheromatic detector which sounds too cool for words.

For occultists however a consequence of all this is that journals stopped publishing papers on the Ether. At this point in history the scientific canon of knowledge was much smaller that it is today and it was very possible for someone to know everything known. As knowledge increased this became harder and harder until the need for specialisation developed. This was also the point at the turn of the 20th century where a lot of new concepts started emerging all at once. General Relativity was being discussed in the "New Scientist" type journals of the day, Quantum theory was just around the corner and Science was ablaze even though Einstein (one of its founders) hated many of the consequences of it. Science also started getting very inaccessible for the layperson. I suspect this is why it took so long for occultists to start bringing these ideas into magic.

For example it was relatively recently when Peter Carroll reframed the four elements in terms of the four basic natural interactions (Gravity, Electromagnetic, Strong Nuclear and Weak Nuclear). I am not sure this was altogether a good idea on Carroll’s part simply because it makes them even more inaccessible. How many people get a feel of the elements from the original terms (Earth, Air, Fire, Water compared to those who get a feel for terms such as "Weak Nuclear force"?

The Ether was left in the jargon of the occult however as a relic. It wasn’t simply relevant anymore and clearly not linked to the 21st century science. In practice this has not really been a problem as we can say that Ether is still something, just not the same sort of thing physics was talking about.

I think that one thing we can learn from this is that I don’t think we need to connect magic and science or seek justification of one in another. One is experiential, the other empirical, both are fantastic and I don’t want to be seen as dismissing science as it has formed a large chunk of my academic background and I am not deserting it, merely trying to place it in context.

I also feel that we are in danger of making the same “etheric blunder” by comparing and trying to redefine magic in terms of “quantum theory”, “chaos theory” “brane theory” or whatever the next big topic will be. Parts may have similarity with magic but we need to see this in context not just draw on elements which match a small part and disregard the whole. Perhaps we are looking at the trees but missing the wood.

At this point in history I do not think that Science is able to explain how magic works. I am being very careful with my words here. Science can not and should not explain magic (in the explaining away sense); to do so would be to accept that magic is really a part of physics and I don’t think that it needs bringing under this umbrella. Neither magic nor science needs to seek justification in each other and I personally have no problems living in a universe where the two (or more) world-views are inconsistent with each other.

Inconsistencies seem to be a part of reality. For example Quantum theory and classical theory are inconsistent with each other and there is no (known) way to map the two together. We might be able to understand this by looking at Godel's theorem.

My use of the term theorem here is important, and I don’t want to lapse into jargon. A theory is something which looks likely based on the observed evidence however can never be completely proven because to do so we would need to examine every case of the phenomena in question. For example I could have a theory that all swans are white based upon my observation of swans, however I could never be sure of this as to do so would be to examine every swan that ever lived. A theorem is however a mathematical proof and it is something we can be certain of. For example Pythagoras's theorem that a2 + b2 = c2 is shown to work for any right angled triangle mathematically - we don’t have to measure every such triangle to test this.

My swan example is also interesting as it shows how to disprove my theory that all swans are white. Rather than test all white swans (impossible), all one needs to do is produce one black swan. As we can see science works by disproving things. Again we have the instance where the need to be sceptical forms the basis of scientific enquiry which would be antagonistic to the demonstration of magic which requires a level of belief. I also suggest that a sceptical approach means one will not be open to holes in ones model of the world which might allow such phenomena.

For example if we consider the case for apports. The record of peoples paranormal experience suggests that apports exist. However physics in lacking a mechanism to work with the phenomena can only look at each individual case and attempt to dismiss the case. It cannot look into the underlying mechanism behind the phenomena to understand how one might be generated. This failure in epistemology is I believe the problem experienced when physics hits any paranormal subject.

Kurt Godel was a logician who postulated two incompleteness theorems. The theorems themselves are largely incomprehensible in their technical statement - I refer you to the relevant wikipedia pages for an idea of this. However what they bottle down to is saying that no system of description can be perfectly consistent - eventually inconsistencies and strange loops will become apparent which form paradoxes.

For example "This statement is a lie” cannot be resolved. If true, it becomes false and if false becomes true. So it will be eternally flipping between one state or another. The works of MC Escher provide a more graphical example of a strange loop such as shown with his picture of hands drawing each other

This shows that inconsistencies and paradox are actually a part of reality and that we (are lucky enough to) live in such a world where we can express and produce examples of paradox so simply, perhaps shows that the universe has no problem with paradoxes.

Actually I think that that might depend on the nature of reality and dimensionality. A paradox will be invisible to anyone caught up inside it, and to see it one needs to step outside. The inconsistent sentence above provides an example of this. Each time it is read it remains internally consistent. It is only when it is read and evaluated does its meaning crystallise and immediately change its nature.

Similarly with MC Escher’s hands it is only by looking from outside onto the image does the strange loop become apparent. In their own context each hand is existing in a perfectly consistent reality.

So, I don’t see a problem with a universe consisting of numerous descriptions - magic, science, various creation myths etc all conflicting with each other yet forming a part of a greater pattern. We don’t need to resolve whether science or magic is true just because the two are inconsistent with each other, the universe has shown us that it doesn’t mind inconsistencies - and we have just demonstrated this both artistically and linguistically.

In fact these inconsistencies might need to be necessary at least with regards to magic. If we step back and consider results magic for a moment, it generally works following the path of least resistance and generating a coincidence. Crowley made a comment once (I think it was in Confessions) where he mentioned a working to get a friend to write to him. He reported success and also suggested that the working had to reach back in time as the letter must have been posted before his working was performed in order to reach him the next day.
  To make one change means that all of reality will need to be rewoven.

Similarly often I feel the energy for a working building the whole day before it starts (usually in the evening). Occasionally this has happened even when I achieved an invite for an evening working without expecting it - ruling out autosuggestion, which is given far too much credence than it really deserves.

I don’t think in either case we can say that the magic is reaching back in time. I would rather suggest that magic works (or at least reaches) outside the current context and somehow is able to reweave part of reality in order to achieve its results from outside. In this sense it is the hand drawing itself, but it is not possible to perceive that from the angle we are looking from.

I feel I have digressed somewhat so lets get things back on track talking about language. Western magic is left in a somewhat embarrassing position in that we have very little native jargon of our own. The most common terms we have are inherited from a number of sources including:

i. Science or Superseded Science

ii Eastern Sources such as tantra
iii Sources inherited from a particular tradition such as Qabalah. Often these are used generically.

This is no bad thing and the eclectic nature of magic brings in many philosophies. Each of which may (or may not) be equally valid. However a confusion of the terms can cause problems and lead to all sorts of situations. For example in Tantra we have the concepts of the Chakra's. In the West we often find systems based upon this and use a system of Chakra's which is not necessary the same as what was taught in the east. This too is fine. What I have problems with is when terminology such as chakra's is used (for example) to describe the sephiroth in the middle pillar.

We see this everywhere for example a scan through recent publications shows that there are now

  • Voodoo and Enochian Tarot Decks
  • Goetic Reiki
  • What next - Satanic healing?

I think that there is a potential "physical" danger in this with people bringing in Eastern breathing techniques which should really be taught on a one-on-one basis being mixed with whatever system the writer thinks would work well - for all we know with no experience on the authors part apart from a bit of reading.

I think an equally dangerous result of this is also that all this mixing is going to create a lot of white noise. Very specific terms get diluted too much and we lose the meaning of the original terms. "Chakra" becomes synonymous with any energy centre regardless of the underlying philosophy, "Reiki" might start referring to any form of healing etc

My view is this can cause problems. Whilst there are similarities in practice between working with kundalini energy by activating each chakra in sequence, compared with performing the Qabalistic Middle Pillar there are also massive differences and (for example) the Yesod Sephiroth does not correspond to the Svadhisthana chakra although (like anything) correlations can be found. Each term is really the produce of different philosophies and will inherit a ton of cultural baggage. I don’t have any problems with cultural appropriation (maybe I should?) but I think that if we are going to do this, as well as the respect needed to take up any spiritual practice, we also need to maintain a rigorous discipline to understand the background and history of the practice as much as possible and not take in terms in a woolly sense. To use an analogy this really needs the equivalent of a PhD level study in the subject – something we should all have in our chosen subjects anyway; regardless of the need for a formal academic paper.

We frame our thoughts in language but it is more that that, because our language arises out of experience - in part what we are taught from our parents as we learn to speak, but afterwards from out own thoughts, they define what we focus on and at least for myself most of my vocabulary, my use of words and concepts which (as with everyone) grow beyond childhood proto-conversations through experience in life, study choices and also a desire to play with words. In this sense our language is as much dependant upon our thoughts as our thoughts are upon our language. Again, we have another strange "self defining" loop constantly reiterating and redefining itself.

My language itself took a quantum leap when I discovered Kenneth Grants Typhonian trilogies. Initially I found Grant very difficult to read even through his wordplay evoked such scintillating worlds in my mind. Grant stretches language to its limits, finding the language to express that which is often ineffable. Speaking for myself I have found that taking these concepts and allowing them to expand the mind provides a bridge across the inconsistencies in the fabric of reality enabling us to explore these worlds.

I think this is vital. If we take a view that our thoughts are dependant upon language and the act of expanding our language and the concepts expressible in our language will expand our minds and ultimately our magical reach.