Magic and control

Channel Null’s got a great post up exploring different concepts of enlightenment, and finds them both lacking. Towards the end he begins to explore the politics of enlightenment:

If any agenda comes out of transcendental practice, it feels outright fascistic. … Years sitting on a meditation mat, practicing mantra, making offerings and bargaining with all manner of strange spirit tend to give one a disposition against any manner of whining or weakness. While this may just take the form of tough love, it may also split off into fascistic wonderland.

This is a great point. There seems to be a tendency for people who are too far into their own magical or spiritual kick to begin ignoring the suffering of others and claim that the suffering of the world need to find the utopia in their minds and let go of their materialism, or whatever. “Let them eat enlightenment.”

The full story’s at Dark Science and Infernal Art, and is well worth reading. However, I’m going to go off on a tangent here.

One thing that’s really bothering me about ceremonial magical practice is the “control” mind-set of it. The goal is to take these entitities (be they psychological, or “real”) – angels, demons, and other spirits – and force them to do your bidding, generally by “binding” them in some way. That whole approach seems very flawed to me.

Equally flawed is the other end of the spectrum, worshiping and begging and sacrificing to a god form.

To draw analogies from the material plane: what motivates you to do things for people? Most of us would be happy to lend a neighbor a cup of sugar. But most of us would be happy to give a neighbor we’ve never met a cup of sugar if they asked. But we wouldn’t be happy about someone coming over and forcefully taking a cup of sugar. And we would probably be pretty weirded out if someone showed up and groveling at your feet and begging for sugar. Nor would we be happy with a neighbor who comes over all the time asking for small favors like cups of sugar, but never offeres to return the favor, and doesn’t make any effort to be social with you.

We’d find some way to deal with someone who stole from us on a regular basis (maybe through the police, maybe just getting together a group of friends, or maybe just sneaking into their place and stealing something of greater value. And as for creepy or annoying people who want favors from us, well we’d probabably start to avoid and ignore them. On a long term basis, the only people we’ll really be giving gifts to or doing favors for, are our friends. People we have relationships with.

I don’t know enough about other traditions to know if this is the case elsewhere, but that’s what really bugs me about the “western esoteric tradition.” A lack of emphasis on building relationships with the intelligences we invoke or evoke.

7 Comments

  1. i’m no expert really when it comes to ceremonial magic, though i recognise your desription of ‘binding’ practices and also the argument that perhaps we shoudln’t bind the spirits we invoke and evoke. generally i think this about right – but it feels more relevant to created servitors and egregores than to those names we might cull from varying grimoires in order to provide a focus for activity. then part of the ‘interest’ perhaps with those grimoiric demons is that they are radically other than us. I really liked the account of the demon world in steve savedow’s book on the goetic demons, as a description of this otherworld. In the face of such a radically other entity perhaps a little fear gnosis is accesible and as such some self-protection in the face of fear seems entirely reasonable and not so oppressive, more expressive of an adventurous sprit. Obviously problems with ego make this happy picture less than the norm…but still, it might be another way of interpreting the structure of binding spirits.

  2. I hear you on the safety issue. That’s an issue I have with grimoiric magic, though. If you don’t feel safe working with an entity unless you’re in complete control of it, maybe you should’t be working with it at all.

    All the writing on the goetia I’ve seen treat the spirits as being aspects of the mind. The idea is basically to take your personal demons and have them do something good for you. But again, whether they’re objectively real or whether they’re just aspects of your consciousness, I wonder about the effectiveness of trying to bully them around, force them to be productive rather than harmful. Many people claim to use this system with success, but I’m highly skeptical about how useful forcing whatever these forces are to do things. Trying to make friends with them might seem unwise, but so is trying to think of any entity as being “good” or “bad.”

    If we’re considering these things entities to be mental processes, bits of the subconscious, and that sort of thing we have to consider why they’re there, what purpose they serve, and how they can be aligned in a productive way and consider an appropriate interface for dealing with these issues.

    The typical occult approach seems control-freakish, whether we’re dealing with the grimoiric demons, our own servitors, the Enochian angels, or some other culture’s gods and goddesses.

  3. I think it’s a bit more complex than you make it out to be. In some instances, the only relationship possible with an individual is that of master/servant. Perhaps these sorts of exercises are ways to work out the rules for that kind of behavior w/o being in the realm of the everyday. In our flawed existence, you will always find people who are trying to bind you to their will somehow, and maybe by binding another, you can gain insight into the process/reasoning/behavior patterns, without having to harm or bind another human being.

    I think these exercises are part of the process of integrating the whole. Not everything in the universe is sweetness and light, and perhaps you have to taste the control so that you don’t become control-freakish.

    I dunno. Summon a goetic spirit, and see if you can reason with it. 🙂

  4. This may be generalizing too much (my experience with occult traditions is pretty limited), but one of the things I’ve noticed in most religious traditions (in the entheogenic tradition, with people like Gray and Huxley; in the occult tradition, with figures like Crowley), the more mystical subsects tend to acknowledge a pervading “one-ness” that is represented in part–but usually not totally–by personified aspects. This happens in both Eastern and Western traditions, though it’s usually less explicitly stated in most Western faiths (with the exception of Catholic mystic texts).

    In my experience, the people who think more in terms of ‘oneness’ and less in terms of their specific god(s) are the ones who tend to end up working for social and economic justice.

  5. “Let them eat enlightenment.” You better believe I’ll be quoting that line. I like yours better than a line I wrote for the SubGenius Foundation: “If you think good thoughts, you don’t have to do good deeds.”

    Informed exchange of goods and services among voluntary adults is a good touch-stone for any activity. Trade good, theft bad.

  6. Scott – I think the idea that the “the only relationship possible with an individual is that of master/servant” is a very limited point of view. On the other hand, I don’t think I’ll be screwing around with the goetic demons – if I can’t trust them without forcing them to do something, I’m not comfortable working with them. And I don’t have quite enough faith in my bargaining prowess to trust those fuckers.

    I’m going to have to spend some time fleshing this out into a proper essay.

    Gwen – I agree that there seems to be a concept of “oneness” in most mysticism and religion. I don’t really think that most people who are supposedly “in touch with oneness” or whatever are out in the streets trying to make a difference. Lots of new age yuppies out there doing fuck all to help their fellow human.

  7. Oh and Scott, good point about experiencing these sorts of things outside of regular human experience. But it’s still worth considering what the results of practicing these sorts of rituals long term are on the psyche.

    The master/slave relationship also relates to fetish, and I wouldn’t want to suggest that there’s any wrong with it (though in these cases it’s between consenting adults, the “slaves” are all willing).

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