Atheism = 1, Magick = 0

Though the score is most probably much higher in atheism and science’s favour, I’d like to take this opportunity for all the believers in magic out there to take a look at a recently publicised event in India (link):

On 3 March 2008, in a popular TV show, Sanal Edamaruku, the president of Rationalist International, challenged India’s most ‘powerful’ tantrik (black magician) to demonstrate his powers on him. That was the beginning of an unprecedented experiment. After all his chanting of mantra (magic words) and ceremonies of tantra failed, the tantrik decided to kill Sanal Edamaruku with the ‘ultimate destruction ceremony’ on live TV. Sanal Edamaruku agreed and sat in the altar of the black magic ritual. India TV observed skyrocketing viewership rates.

Definitely worth the read.

Not to say I’ve not had my own peculiar results, but I attribute it more to a level of “reality hacking” I’ve learned over the years via my interest in chaos magic, rather than so-called magick in the (traditional?) sense of the word.

Two interesting reads to follow-up the above with are on Psychology Today, dealing with magic:

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You’re a God

I had a good talk about this with Erik Davis, the author of TechGnosis. He told me, “In the magical worldview, the world is kind of like a language. If you know the spells or the signs or the symbols you can effect change.” Hard physics has discredited that soft outlook, “but with cyberspace and technology and the Internet it’s a human space, or it’s all a constructed space. And on its most basic level, it’s constructed of language.” Maybe not English, but computer code.

Magical Thinking

Magical thinking springs up everywhere. Some irrational beliefs (Santa Claus?) are passed on to us. But others we find on our own. Survival requires recognizing patterns-night follows day, berries that color will make you ill. And because missing the obvious often hurts more than seeing the imaginary, our skills at inferring connections are overtuned. No one told Wade Boggs that eating chicken before every single game would help his batting average; he decided that on his own, and no one can argue with his success. We look for patterns because we hate surprises and because we love being in control.

15 Comments

  1. I’ve been on the model for a while now that using magic does not necessarily mean that one believes that it truly works, that a simultaneously materialistic and mythic mode of perception is attainable.

    Just today I was digging around for a good book on the placebo effect. I think that magic behaves on that same principle, … it works when its done right, even though it shouldn’t, but it does anyhow. Magic isn’t always about health and medicine, but also about attaining mutant abilities and increasing probabilities [which usually means confidence building which leads to new situations.] This mostly equates to being a sort of aggressive self help, so theres nothing wrong with that. There is also nothing wrong with trying hard to stay away from the fetid stigma of ‘self help’ by dressing it up a little.

    Like you said though, ‘traditional magic’ is certainly its own thing. There are many people like you and I who understand reality hacking and the wonders of innerspace, but do not rely on the shifting foundations of faith or belief.

    The goal of this kind of magic imo is to map out the psyche and have it all accessible with its very own keyboard. Being able to program the self to become the right person at the right moment has its advantages.

    I’d like to bring back the term ‘psychonaut’, and do away with the stigma of occultism and magick.

  2. Chaoflux: every book is a good book on the placebo effect.

    Good links, Fell.

  3. Occultknowledge

    March 24, 2008 at 11:57 am

    I don’t buy this. Just because this one tantric magicians mojo didn’t work means nothing and proves nothing. I mean to think we know and don’t know whats possible in this dimension and others that intersect this dimension is arrogant. Maybe somebody has successfully hacked this reality, don’t you think? Time has been theorized to not in fact be linear but spiral and interconnected. It is only our five sense perspective that makes us think its linear. Could it not be that with the proper understanding applied you could somehow hack the rules to this realm? In addition: atheism is a boring cop-out, it presumes from the start that the world is mundane and easily explainable. I always hear from these people that there is no after-life. Excuse me? Did they ever die and come back to prove that?

  4. We should keep in mind, however, that it also wouldn’t have proved anything if Edamaruku had sat on the altar and suddenly keeled over.

  5. The Illusion of Credibility

    March 24, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    Sanal Edamaruku, the president of “Rationalist” International, must be one powerful magician, his Nullify Magick spell worked like a charm!

    This reminds of Johnny Carson show footage claiming to debunk Uri Geller. What if another Uri Geller was on the set preventing Uri Geller from bending the spoons?

    If magick exists, then everyone possesses some innate magickal ability even if they do not call it that. It is a well-known “magickal fact” that the way to “banish” ill effects of magick is to laugh at them, or pretend they don’t exist. Thus, like Bink from “A Spell for Chameleon,” a non-believer cannot be harmed by magickal means. Their utter non-belief acts as a “faith” spell that shields them from magick spells.

  6. These are all good points. But at this point in time it is not scientifically possible to “prove” magick “works” or doesn’t work”. Here’s my argument:

    1) There is no way to study in a scientific setting a possible future event. Until one can perform an actual study on the path that a “cone of power” takes when sent out during a working and the path it takes afterwards; the future result will always remain debatable.

    2) Magick is relative to the perspective of the magickian and the observer. Occult means “hidden”, and if the magician is working something personal, others outside their sphere might not pick up on something the magickian sees as “magickal”. One person’s results of a “spell or magickal working” might seem to another as just a synchronicity, or something the other person experiences as a regular daily occurrence (i.e. “not magick”).

    3) Some magickal workings take years to actually manifest (hence the saying “be careful what you wish for”). Some “workings” are actually about the process (the work that’s done during the journey, not the destination itself). So you have some who claim that magick “doesn’t work for them”, but find a few years down the road that what they worked for suddenly “appears”. It then becomes an argument about the power of positive thinking, synchronicity, and the “placebo” effect, etc. ad infinitum.

  7. There was a great bit at the start of the Illuminatus Trilogy where we see that the atheistic Soviet Premier is unaffected by a magickal attack that works perfectly on the American President.

    And hell, I’m not sure I could concentrate enough in that sort of atmosphere get a magickal result of anykind. I doubt I’d be able to get a cigarette lighter to work.

    All in all, under the light of reason, debating whether or not magick exists is trying to reconcile the material reality of smoke with its apparent intangibility. If it’s there how come I can’t grab it? Under certain conditions I can capture it… very specific conditions and still not by hand. “Once I tried to demonstrate the paradoxical reality of smoke to my family, who didn’t believe in it. I failed because I had not yet learned that ice cubes do not burn…”

    I’ve had enough incidents in my life to satisfy me on a personal level that action-at-a-distance, apparently mind-over-matter magickal effects are possible, but I’ve had enough failures in the same area to prove to my satisfaction that there’s a very narrow band of efficacy and that a perfect one-to-one mapping of intent to event is very context-dependant.

  8. The Illusion of Credibility

    March 24, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    Another point:

    From a tactical perspective, attempting to beard the rationalist lion in his televised den, where he is propped up by the supporting beliefs of his constituents, was not wise. Additionally, killing someone in public creates criminal liability, a fact the “tantrik” could not have been unaware of.

    This whole thing makes me wonder whether the “tantrik” was merely a charlatan. They do exist.

    I found the tantrik’s statement that the rationalist was protected by a “powerful god” interesting because it suggests the possibility that the rationalist’s non-belief may have manifested as personified “god” to the tantrik, if he wasn’t in fact a charlatan.

  9. Heh, and no one else finds Psychology Today having more than one article on magic the more shocking element of this post?

  10. Dang. Fell beat me to that observation about Psychology Today. I do find it shocking that such a mainstream publication that usually sticks to far less metaphysical topics would dare to comment on magic(k)al thinking.

  11. OccultKnowledge: “I mean to think we know and don?t know whats possible in this dimension and others that intersect this dimension is arrogant.” You seem to know plenty. Therefore…

    Illusion Credibility: “If magick exists, then everyone possesses some innate magickal ability even if they do not call it that.” If blue eyes exist, then everybody has them even if they do not call it that.

  12. The Illusion of Credibility

    March 25, 2008 at 3:36 am

    @Trevor Blake – You would be on safer ground comparing magickal ability to musical ability. Even the completely tone-deaf, rhythmless person possesses some musical ability. Likewise, one could conceive of a person with great musical ability who does not know that they make music, their music being an unintended consequence of some other action.

    You know very well that blue eyes are a subset of having eyes which are subset of having vision. Now magick either exists or it doesn’t. If magick exists then, like everything else in existence, it may be subject to manipulation. And if one can manipulate it, then all possess the ability to manipulate it.

    My eyes change from blue to green depending on circumstances. What color are they?

  13. This entire debate strikes me as a semantic twilight zone. Are we talking about action-at-a-distance/divination ‘magick’? – Surely alot of the Selfwork can be tucked under the reductionist umbrella of self-administered psychology or interpreted in Jungian framework. Whatever keeps the demands of the rationalistic materialist fulfilled; a psychoanalytic reading.

    I presume the tension here arises from the apparent violation of the laws of physics/thermodynamics entailed by “making things happen”, reading the future, mind-to-mind ‘telepathic’ data exchanges and the whole paranormal facet of magickal work which tends to shroud the entire field with a glamour and is, let’s face it, the reason most of us get interested in the first place. Once we get past the glittery promise of transcendence of the mundane to the hard work and uncertain results, we have to find other reasons to stick at it.

    I’d imagine that consciousness/neurology/biophysics research will eventually shed light upon and define the operational parameters of what we currently understand as magickal “causality”. The observation/measurement problem in Quantum Physics might be the starting point for a technical understanding of human subjectivity – subjectivity being the aspect which kind of fucks up the repeatability factor in experiments (or so I’d imagine). Then we’d be getting somewhere. I’m kind of hoping science will accidentally liberate spirituality (*wince* – sorry folks!) from the rubric of religion and metaphysics.

    When was the last time a comments thread ran this long?

  14. Occultknowledge

    March 25, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    I wish comments like this always ran this long, its healthy. 🙂

  15. Illusion of Credibility: my point (stated too briefly to be clear) was that your claim that ?If magick exists, then everyone possesses some innate magickal ability even if they do not call it that? is not held by all those who claim magick exists. Many, and I suggest most, who claim magick exists also claim that some people have it and some people don’t. Not that some people have a little and others a lot, or some develop it and some leave it be. As in some people have zero and others have more than zero.

    It’s kind of like debating whether golden age Superman is more heroic than silver age Superman. We know what the ages are, and what heroism is, but there is no Superman.

    While Randi is closing down his million dollar prize for a demonstration of magick, I’ll offer $4.95 for a demonstration of magick. C’mon, you magickians, there’s nearly five bucks in it for ya!

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