I previously posted some initial thoughts about paradigms in, honestly, a kind of screed. From the content of that post, it may not be clear why I think the topic relates to my category of esoterica, I think this continuation will tie those together usefully. I note that Mark over at Darkline made some of this connection already based on my previous.
It’s already been over a year since the previous Ask the Initiates panel at Sekhet-Maat, part of a weekend of activity around the annual Thelemic Symposium. Although it’s come up before and since, I recall especially that one of the questions I was asked by the students was what I thought about the reality of magick and magical entities. Now that the Ask the Initiates panel came around again, the topic came around again as well but I may have brought it up myself because I was thinking about it.
My answer has generally been that If I take seriously the notion of “as above, so below”; it simply doesn’t matter whether my experiences are due to some logically positive objective materialism, purely artefacts of my method and mechanics of perception, or even more abstractly simply contained only within a Popperian third world. In otherwords, I reject the premise that it needs must be answered in an Aristotelean way, that I must answer whether these things are either true or false, real or not real, and that I must accept the particular epistemological stratum in which another intends to hunt for snark.
Not only is the snark a boojum, you see; but, these are particularly my boojum. The reality of these entities in question is an epistemological one, not an ontological one; and most definitely not a phenomenological one since the answer is most emphatically about personal consciousness and not a universal. The question of the ontological and phenomenological reality of magick and magickal entities is actually irrelevant to my ability to engage with them and the utility to me and mine of that work. But, the epistemological reality of these same could be of the utmost importance. The real question is not whether these entities have some objective existence, but whether I gain knowledge and experience through the interaction, the relationship. And, moreover whether I have a justified belief in them.
So, I say it doesn’t matter, except, of course, that it does matter in a way. It may be of the utmost importance that I believe, for the efficacy of a particular magical operation, for the usefulness of any knowledge gained in the experience, one way or the other. But, the important issue is that it may also, at some other point in time-space, be equally or more important for me to believe the opposite.
One of my favourite examples of this is Goetic or Enochian work. The operation is one which I might summon specific entities, with whom I work to develop a relationship, or, in cases, mastery over. One view is that the entity has an objective existence independent of my own cognition and experience of the interaction. However, another way of viewing this: I might be simply externalizing parts of myself in order to gain the distance necessary to integrate those parts of my shadow with which I could not otherwise engage. It may be completely necessary for me to not only act as if the goetic entities are real with independent existences, but also to actually, for some period of time, be completely convinced that is an objective fact.
If for the purposes of a magickal operation, I tend to believe one way or another on the question and the operation is not successful, then it may be necessary to change my mind, alter my thinking, or, change my consciousness in accordance with my will (to sort of make a mishmash of definitions). In other words, if a particular paradigm doesn’t seem to be effective, try another. (And I can’t help but wonder how someone unable to change their consciousness in this way is capable of doing magick at all.)
Here’s where I find myself thinking about the quote from the Principia Discordia: “All statements are true in some sense, false in some sense, meaningless in some sense, true and false in some sense, true and meaningless in some sense, false and meaningless in some sense, and true and false and meaningless in some sense.” The corollary to this might be that in doing magick one will likely need to be pragmatic and artful about the power and limitation of dogma. (I’ll stop before I make the claim that this is also the secret not just to magick but also to peace on Earth, but – Oops. Never mind.)
The mechanism by which this happens has, for me, always been about liminality as long as I’ve known the term. But, moreover, before I really had incorporated notions of the liminal into my thinking, this is surprisingly similar to the act of acting, or rather, for me, the act of being, on stage. For me there’s a concept of an “actor’s brain” which is essentially a doubling of consciousness wherein there is both a character and an actor. Where the former cannot know certain things, the latter must know them; and the “actor’s brain” is where these paradoxical states are reconciled, co-located. Similar to the audience’s suspension of disbelief, where they simultaneously believe and disbelieve the theatrical event; the “actor’s brain” is a place where two conflicting sets of wholistic personality and understanding co-exist, and inform each other, but neither completely subsumes the other. (There are things, in my direct experience, that the character side of the “actor’s brain” knows about how to be and behave which the actor side is unable to discover or fully understand or replicate alone.) In addition to being similar in my experience to the “actor’s brain”, I find this paradigmatic liminality to also have resonance with the notion of suspension in dialogue and Bey’s notion of an autonomous zone [also], and from there a whole host of other things.
Of course, there are other paradigms of acting, to continue the simile, than mine. There are those that are merely mechanical and those that are more fully intuitive. My particular paradigm is one I operate in because of the efficaciousness of that paradigm for me. For the mechanical paradigm, I find that more about performance than ritual, and to and for me theatre is always best when it is ritualized; the mechanical paradigm seems shallow and is to treat the theatrical experience, for both actor and audience, as one of simple deception and manipulation. For the more intuitive paradigm, I find that a slippery slope to madness as so many actors get lost on that road. But, that’s about the utility of these paradigms for me. However, for all these three, there are great actors that have operated in each.
Another example that has always come to mind for me is what I’ve come to see as the Renaissance paradigm shift of astrology. There seems to me a significant paradigm shift where previously the upper determined the lower. after the renaissance, the inner determined the outer. It seems to me that the understanding of astrology radically changed as the paradigm shifts of the Renaissance did. Whereas typically a modern view of the universe is that it is determined from the inside out, that the individual mind and perception of the world, one’s consciousness of the world, changes the world; an earlier view would see the individual as being determined from the outside in, that one’s consciousness was the last mile in a cosmic broadband connection to the divine. Whereas astrology might now see the vagaries of an individual reflected in the stars, that the quirks and foibles of the self are written above, that the individual choices are helped or hindered by the influence of the spheres; it seems to me that an earlier world-view would have seen rather that the self is a reflection of the divine whole, a facet of the larger totality of the universe, that the self is a product of the functioning of the spheres. So, in an older overall paradigm, the notion that the personality of an individual would appear and be amenable to study through the outer makes a great deal of sense. On the other hand, in the newer paradigm, the direction of influence is essentially reversed. In one the stars are the environment in which one acts, and in the other the stars are an intermediate layer in which the influence of cosmic order can be traced to either end, the above or below.
Depending on what kind of information I was looking for, I might need to approach astrology in a radically different way. You know, if one does approach it at all.
Paradigms are sets of meanings derived from observations. The observations don’t really change, unless I get better or different mechanisms and methods of observation, but the value of the meanings derived from those observations is directly related to the utility and efficacy of those meanings as they apply to the work; whether that’s the work of daily living, where the notions of newtonian physics and vector maths and a sensory feedback loop are useful to me as I try to cross the street with my life, or that’s when I’m engaging in a magical operation and trying to gain some effect through affecting efficaciously.
In this way the aphorism “as above, so below”, and its corollaries and co-legates under the wings of their ruling dux, the esoteric archidoxes of the seven hermetic laws detailed in the Kybalion, are all ways of saying paradigms matter but it is not necessary to hold on to them for dear life. “As above, so below”; “as within, so without”; and even “solve et coagula” – these are also structurally the same as the interplay between Self and the Other. There is the Jungian shadow to be integrated, and the self to be absorbed into the communal.
Of course, it really doesn’t matter to me if someone else believes in my experience or not. My “unsubstantiated personal gnosis” is justified to me to the extent that it offers some utility to me. As the Book says, “Success is your proof” … The danger is that I become a victim to confirmation bias, but that’s really a separate question of the scientific rigour of my work. However, the utility of UPG requires necessarily neither that it be shared nor confirmed beyond my own practice. My ongoing personal testing of that UPG is part of the work, such that it may become, at least personally, confirmed and possibly maybe even shared, but it is that the work is that matters more than what is the work, so the necessity is of a different order. It matters not what my paradigm is, but that I have one and that it works for me in the work I need to do when I need to do it. What matters is not the reality of what I do, but the reality that I do it.
In this case, as opposed to a more strictly defined view of the sciences, replicability by others is interesting but not necessary strictly speaking for the value of my esoteric science, and the paradigm in which I operate my scientific method of the work, to be valid and sufficient. However, that’s not to say that sharing and confirming with others is not also useful both as a check on my own work, but also in participating in a community of workers on a shared syncopated operation, perhaps as in the formation of an egregor over time. But, this shared work and my personal work can exist, as much as it is possible for anything to do so since things necessarily on some level exist in relationship with each other, independently of each other. Neither is necessarily significantly diminished by not participating in a system-in-focus with the other, though those connections do necessarily exist in some larger or out-of-focus systemic relationship. In each case it doesn’t, except when it does, matter so much what I’m doing, so long as I’m doing it; and visa versa, it doesn’t matter what work the egregor does, so much that the work works.
In this way magick more closely resembles an engineering black-box problem than an effort at scientific experimental replication. Where the latter is attempting to repeat the method to arrive at the same result, the former is trying to sufficiently repeat a similar result through some method to be determined as necessary.