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The Logic of Magic

Mike Fuller makes sense of magic as a system of thought.

The deeper theoretical principles behind Western magic are related to the conceptual system of the Jewish Qabbalah. In Indian and Chinese magic the principles are related to conceptual systems of their own which are still not very well understood by Westerners. But some insight into the actual practices of magic, East and West, as well as the magical practices of many primitive societies, can be gained without intimate knowledge of the above conceptual systems, although reference to some concepts, entities, and forces is necessary.

The Simplest Level of Magic – Perhaps the easiest way to understand how magic is supposed to work is to start at the everyday level where, it is held, magic is going on all the time, usually unconsciously. Everyday phrases, such as “He really psyched me out”, “There’s a hypnotic quality about her”, “It really drains your energy being with him”, “He makes me go weak at the knees”, “He scares me shitless”, could all be held to refer to forms of magical attack.

The magician’s explanation is as follows:

A magical attack occurs whenever one person’s will, or aura, either deliberately or unconsciously, ‘pierces the aura’ or ‘affects the will’ or ‘enters the etheric energy body’ of another person. More strictly, A does not pierce B’s aura; it is rather a question of B allowing his aura to be pierced by A’s ‘vibes’. There are basically two chief reasons why B should let himself be so ‘pierced’: fear or desire. B, as it were, affected by fear or desire, ‘opens the gates from within’, and so allows A’s manifestations to pierce through. Depending on the kind of ‘attack’, for it may be healing as much as harming, B will feel his vital energy change in response to A’s ‘vibes’, and so feel weak, drained, beaten, anxious, thrilled, joyous, calm, etc.

The Next Level of Magic: Conscious Development and Use of the Magician’s Own Will and Energy – The next level leads us into magic proper, but exactly the same principles that are at work in the simpler level of magic still apply.

The magician consciously develops his will and powers of visual imagination through concentration. Magical ritual may be employed here, but its primary purpose is only to help the concentration of the magician. By developing his own energetic force and concentrated will, the magician is now in a much stronger position than the ordinary person to affect the aura of others. He has trained himself to be a “hypnotic personality”, a “magnetic personality”.

The magician may attain the power to will his etheric energy body to ‘leave’ his physical body and engage in what is called ‘astral travelling’, enabling him to explore “other orders of being”.

He may even use ‘astral travelling’ abilities to carry out magical attacks at a distance: the astral body of the magician, bearing the will of the magician, may affect the aura of another person for good or ill, just by concentrating on them. This seems to be the basis of practices such as ‘blessing’ and ‘cursing’.

At first it might seem that in this level of magic, as in the simplest level, the magician does not have recourse to anything other than his own energy and force, except perhaps accidentally. However, integral to, and parallel with, this development of personal will and energy is the accessing and harmonizing of basic forces held to compose both human subjectivity and also to be reflections of powers in the wider universe. If I understand the philosophy correctly, the magician holds that the accessing and harmonizing of the fundamental cosmic forces that compose human personality is integral to the process of successfully developing the will and energy.

Beyond this lies the contact with ‘higher’ parts of subjectivity and ‘higher’ powers in the universe.

Both processes take us into the next level of magic: the tapping of basic energies.

The Final Level of Magic: Invocation and Evocation: the Tapping of Cosmic Energies – This seems to be the deepest and most powerful level and the one which perhaps has the most affinities with religion and mysticism. But it still retains the essential thread with the other levels: will, concentration, energy, visualization.

The aim of the magician is now to come into contact with powerful energies of various kinds in the universe. The kinds of energies contacted, the reasons why they are contacted, and the ways in which they are utilised are perhaps the things that differentiate white magic, black magic, and mysticism.

How are such energies contacted? According to the magician Dion Fortune, the methods employed are much the same in all forms of magic, religion, and mysticism. As before, they involve will, concentration, energy, but this time they also involve a curious mixture of subjective and objective. The point can perhaps be made clearest by an example.

Suppose you wish to contact the power of Jesus. Now Jesus, holds Fortune, exists on several levels. The first level is that of the physical symbols or talismans of Jesus, such as the Crucifix. The next level on which Jesus exists is as a ‘thought-form’, as a distinct ‘psychic entity’ existing in the akashic records (a sort of ‘library’ of all thought-forms which have been projected by minds, held to be located in the ‘psychic ether’), a psychic entity created by the collective subjectivity of all those people over the centuries who have thought and felt about Jesus and what he represents. In this sense, then, Jesus exists, says Fortune, as a subjective collective creation of humanity which, like all thought-forms, exists, more or less powerfully, depending on how much thought how many people have given it, in the ‘psychic ether’. So far, then, we have Jesus as an objectively existing (in the psychic ether) collective subjective thought-form. But this is not the whole of the story, according to Fortune. For what ‘Jesus’ represents, what people are getting at when they refer to Jesus as the “loving son of God” is a force in the universe which does objectively exist and is not a mere thought-form, collective or otherwise. The force that Jesus, perhaps both as real historical being and as thought-form, represents, is the cosmic force that in Qabbalic mysticism is called ‘Tiphareth’. As a representative of Tiphareth, Jesus is not alone, since to the power in the universe that is Tiphareth belong all the redeeming and healing and compassionate Gods and Goddesses of human thought-forms (for instance, Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, would presumably also “belong to Tiphareth”). Further, the healing, redeeming, compassionate force that is Tiphareth ‘ensouls’ the collective subjective thought-forms that are Jesus or Guanyin.

As Fortune puts it :-

“We see, then, that every celestial being conceived by the mind of man has as its basis a natural force, but that upon the basis of this natural force is built up a symbolic image representative thereof, which is ensouled and rendered active by the force it represents. The image, then, is but a mode of representation indulged in by the human mind for its own convenience, but the force that the image represents, and which ensouls it, is a very real thing indeed, and under certain circumstances can be exceedingly powerful. In other words, although the form under which the god is represented is pure imagination, the force associated with it is both real and active”. (Dion Fortune, The Mystical Qabbalah, Aquarian Press, 1987, pp.224-225).

Given, then, that an objective force is held to lie behind and ‘ensoul’ a subjective thought-form (which nevertheless exists ‘objectively’ in the ‘psychic ether’), how do religion and magic and mysticism access such a force?

Once again, Fortune’s answer seems to be along the lines of the general principles underlying the other levels of magic: through will, concentration, visualisation. The adept, devotee, or believer focuses an emotionally charged concentration or meditation upon the thoughtform, perhaps aided by ritual, ceremony, prayer, chant, mantra, spell, etc., and thereby seeks to evoke through will the presence of the force which the thought-form represents.

At this point, it is worth noticing that Fortune, if I understand her correctly, has a refreshingly down-to-earth attitude towards the whole paraphanalia of rituals, runes, and spells that surround the subject of magic. The idea that there are “secret formulae” which, in some mechanical and automatic way can produce effects and evoke the presence of powers and forces, she seems to dismiss as ignorant rubbish. Rather, the purpose of all such things, she appears to be saying, is merely to create the appropriate attitude in the adept or devotee – solemnity, respect, awe, especially – with which to approach such solemn, sublime, and awful forces. A specific ritual, mantra, or spell merely directs the mental and emotional attitude in the appropriate way towards the appropriate force. It is the external form of an internal attitude. This I take to be the message of her concluding remarks, aimed as much at conventional religion as at magic;-

“Viewed as a means of invoking the spirit of God, ceremonial is pure superstition; but viewed as a means of evoking the spirit of man, it is pure psychology, and that is how I view it. It is a lost art in the West, but an art that is well worth reviving”. (Fortune, ibid., p.306)

At this point, let us notice three things about this level of magic, whether white or black. Firstly, it operates with the principles of the earlier levels still in mind: will, concentration, energy, visualization are all-important. Secondly, the aim of magic at this level is both to know the forces in question by experiencing them, and also to use them, either nefariously or otherwise, depending on the type of magic and the type of power (the same sort of ‘magical attacks’, blessings and curses, healing and harm, can occur at this level of magic as at the other levels, only now the magical attacks will be more powerful, since the magician is utilizing energies greater than his own). Thirdly, it does not really matter, for the sake of practical magic, whether the forces experienced and used are held to objectively exist in the greater universe, or whether they are held to be forces emanating from the deeper and forgotten layers of human subjectivity, or whether, indeed, as the basic microcosmic-macrocosmic philosophy underlying the Qabbalah (and also Eastern magic) holds to be the case, such a “subjective or objective” dichotomy is a false dichotomy. We are, after all, composed of the same forces and energies that compose the rest of the universe.

I would like to continue this tentative “Idiot’s Guide to Magic” by speculatively broaching two questions: What are the relations between white and black magic? What are the relations between magic, religion and mysticism?

The Relations Between White and Black Magic – The magician can harness the forces he taps, acting as a sort of ‘physical medium’. But, on a ‘like attracts like’ principle, the state of being of the magician (the purification as well as the intensity of his will and concentrated attention) will determine both which forces he can contact as well as how intimately and completely he can contact them. This perhaps provides some clue as to white versus black magic. The black magician, it would seem, is in advance limited as to the kind of forces he can access. If the essence of black magic is the wanting and using of knowledge and power for selfish reasons (or just for the sake of being powerful, which is much the same thing), then presumably a black magician who tries to access the ‘healing power of Tiphareth’ will either be ignored or receive a slap on the wrist. (Rather like the story of an LSD trip recounted by a friend who said: “It was as if I got to the gates of Heaven, and St. Peter looked out, and told me: ‘Sorry, but you can’t bring all that shit in here. Don’t call us, we’ll call you!’”).

On the other hand, given the black magician’s mind-set towards the universe, there is probably no reason why he should want to contact such holy, healing forces. He would still, given a trained and powerful will, and perhaps the fuel of negative emotion, be in position to contact some fairly powerful forces – the amoral elementals, and the destructive, negative Qlipoth – whose subjective thought-forms are in the shape of demons and devils. (Why and how the Qlipoth should exist is something explained, more or less, by Qabbalic philosophy, but there is no time to go into it here). Given that the aim of this level of magic, white or black, is at least partly to supplement personal energy with the energy of vaster universal forces, such a black magician would no doubt be a formidable person to encounter.

What of white magic? What makes it ‘white’? Presumably the central thing is the purification of the strengthened will, which provides the white magician with a different mind-set towards the world than the black. At her most extravagant, Fortune seems to say that the white magician has all the qualities of the mystic, and a few more besides, and so is more complete. At the very least, she suggests elsewhere, what distinguishes the white magician is a concern to act in harmony with the laws of the universe as a whole, and a concern not to harm others undeservedly. High adepts of white magic can access the redeeming power of Tiphareth, and its compassionate understanding informs their activity; but they can also access the awful powers of Geburah (Mars) and, if they deem it necessary, go wading in like magical John Waynes, wreaking mayhem on deserving bad guys in the name of law ‘n order.

The Relations Between Magic, Religion and Mysticism – Let us begin with a view expressed by Evelyn Underhill in her now classic book on Christian and Sufi mystics, Mysticism. She defines genuine religious mysticism as an attitude which involves a surrender of the will towards spiritual reality; she defines all forms of magic in terms of exactly the opposite attitude, an attempt to use spiritual reality in the service of the human will. The further inference, of course, is that mysticism is good and that magic is bad. So, for Underhill, there is no distinction worth making between white and black magic – all magic is black,

For a very different view, let us turn now to Gerald Suster’s book on magic in general and Aleister Crowley in particular, The Legacy of the Beast:-

“What is Magic? Aleister Crowley defined it as ‘the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will’. A later magician, Dion Fortune, qualified this with her definition of it as ‘The science and art of causing changes in consciousness in conformity with will’ … The present writer has defined it as ‘The science and art of realizing the Divine Self by changing the human self’ …

What, then, is Black Magic? … why black and white magic? One answer might be to point out that Magic is like water: one can use it to drive a hydro-electric plant, make a cup of tea, or boil one’s granny; and that therefore Black Magic consists of the use of the energies aroused by the practice of Magic to harm other individuals.” (G. Suster, The Legacy of the Beast, W.H.Allen (London), 1988, pp.97-98).

On Suster’s definition, then, white magic seems to have the same end in view as mysticism, namely, the “realizing of the Divine Self by changing the human self”. So who is right, Suster or Underhill?

The first point to notice in helping us to decide this issue is that all forms of magic and most forms of the religious life (and especially the mystical religious life) place tremendous emphasis on the training, discipline, and concentration of the will and attention. We can perhaps begin to gain a more comprehensive insight into the relations between white magic, black magic, and religious mysticism by referring to the thoughts of that “humorous magician”, George Gurdjieff.

A fundamental pillar of Gurdjieff’s teaching was that most people were such ‘hasnamusses’ (apparently the Gurdjieffian term for “weak, irresolute, confused, vacillating wallies”) that to ask such a ‘hasnamuss’ to do anything at all, let alone such a mighty feat as totally surrendering his will to God, was a sheer waste of time. Because such a hasnamuss (who, in Gurdjieff’s colourful jargon, was apparently suffering from “an abnormally strong crystallization of the consequences of the properties of that malificent organ Kundabuffer”) has neither will nor self. What he does have is a number of warring selves and conflicting wills over which he has no firm control. So forget all this sentimental nonsense about the mystical surrender of the will. If you want to dream about surrendering your will, then you must first of all train your will – a process which Gurdjieff called “constructing the I”. The precondition to surrendering the will is constructing the will: you cannot surrender what you do not yet have. Since this process of disciplining and focussing the will into a singleminded concentration is evidently part of the ascetic practices of much religious mysticism as well as of magic, it seems clear that Underhill’s rigid dichotomy between the two is a bit premature.

Gurdjieff further elucidates what can occur during the arduous discipline of integrating the conflicting parts of the self and focussing the will. There can occur ‘right crystallization’ or ‘wrong crystallization’. If I understand him, this is Gurdjieff’s way of distinguishing between white and black magic. It is always possible that, in the rigours of the training, even the budding young mystic has turned into a hard shell of a human being, tremendously disciplined and powerful as personality, but has somehow lost his heart, and is left only with a bitter malignancy, a pride in his own strength, and a contempt for the weak “hasnamusses” around him. Perhaps unwittingly, perhaps by conscious choice, such a person might gravitate towards black magic, affecting others with their powerful malignant will, and with enough focussed concentration and negative emotion to fuel that will with deeper forces.

However, even if Underhill’s dichotomy between magic and mysticism does seem premature, there is a sense in which it does still appear to obtain. This is the difference of attitude which the magician and the mystic appear to take towards ‘powers’. By ‘powers’ (siddhis) here are meant a whole range of psychic phenomena, of ‘supernormal’ or ‘miraculous’ abilities, that may be attendant on the accessing of certain forces or certain states of being (telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, hypnotic influence, speaking in tongues, superhuman strength, astral travelling, etc.)

The white magician sees nothing wrong with having these powers (and perhaps even regards them as a natural but forgotten human birthright). After all, he has worked hard for them. It is the use to which such powers are put that determines the difference between white and black magic.

The mystic, on the other hand, tends to regard all such powers as essentially irrelevant, at best as ‘gifts of grace’, and even as potential obstacles to the true goal of divine union, and is well aware of the paradox involved in “having powers”:-

“With each new level of surrender and purification, and of faith to give up your present control and power, you achieve new powers. Finally, when you have givenup all your position and power, you end up having all powers … The cosmic humour is that if you desire to move mountains and you continue to purify yourself, ultimately you will arrive at the place where you are able to move mountains. But in order to arrive at this position of power you will have had to give up being he-who-wanted-tomove- mountains so that you can be hewho- put-the-mountain-there-in-the-first – place. The humour is finally when you have the power to move the mountain, you are the person who placed it there – so there the mountain stays.” (Baba Ram Dass, Be Here Now, Lama Foundation,1971, p.51)

Dion Fortune’s own view suggests that not only is there no opposition between religion and mysticism and most forms of magic, but even that the magician is in some ways superior to the mystic:-

“We are accustomed to take the line that the spiritual and the natural are mutually antagonistic and that we must rob Peter to pay Paul, and to conclude that if the spiritual is the highest good, the natural must necessarily be the lowest evil; we do not realize that matter is crystallized spirit, and spirit is volatized matter….

… the average would-be initiator in modern occult fraternities, who is usually more of a mystic than an occultist, does not realize that he has got to initiate subconsciousness as well as consciousness, and illuminate the instincts as well as the reason…

It is the aim of occult initiation to develop these powers and, if taken from the higher standpoint, as it always should be if it is not to degenerate into black magic, to unite them with Tiphareth, which is the focussingpoint of the higher self, or Individuality.” (Fortune, op.cit., pp.230, 231, 235)

Taken together, the extracts included in this quote give some indication of how she sees the relations between religion and white and black magic. I should like to critically consider two points in her account: firstly, her claim that magic is more complete than mysticism; secondly, her claim, made here and also earlier, that not only mysticism, but religion in general, uses the same methods as magic.

Firstly, let us explore her claim that the magical method is more complete. The reasons behind this claim are clear and have already been touched on: magic integrates and harmonizes the whole self, and does not merely ignore or deny aspects of the self which the mystic deems to be undesirable and ‘unspiritual’. And I presume here that we are speaking of such “fruits of the earth” as sex, aggression, fear, power, pride – and their use and abuse. Magic seeks to confront these things and to transmute them, whereas the mystic, in Fortune’s eyes, seeks only to deny them in order to rise above them. As a result, having ignored rather than confronted such aspects of the self, the mystic is building on insecure foundations. As herself a one-time student of Freudian analysis, Fortune almost certainly has in mind here the distinction between ‘repression’ and ‘sublimation’.

Although Fortune does not go into details concerning the magical methods employed during this harmonization and integration of the self, it seems reasonable to assume that they have something in common with tantric, Dionysian, and shamanistic cults, up to and including various forms of ‘sexual mysticism’ and orgy.

That there is a sound principle behind her claim can perhaps be realized if we compare it to the philosophical argument Anne Bancroft puts forward for tantric methods in Religions of the East:-

“This yoga worships the divine as two principles, male and female, Being and Becoming. Shiva, the masculine, is eternal Being, pure perfection and timeless wisdom. Shakti, the supreme Mother, is the creative power of Becoming, the origin of created form, and the cause of time…

Tantric followers believe that it is through fulfilment and not through austerity that Man finds Reality. Self-mortification is regarded as an insult to Shakti and it is believed that natural desires should be fulfilled intelligently and attentively. The repression of desires leads to endless trouble, and if a man listens to the wisdom of Shakti in his heart, his impulses will gradually become higher and more noble.

Most men want to enjoy the pleasures of the world. Tantra bids them do so, but at the same time to discover in them the presence of God. Tantric Yoga teaches practices and mystical rites which, if followed with pure motives, gradually transform the desires of the senses into love of god. In this way, says Tantra, the very chains which bind man to the world are used to free him.” (Anne Bancroft, Religions of the East, Heinemann (London), 1974, pp.39-41)

While Gerald Suster writes:-

“The Four Elements of the Ancients – Fire, Water, Air, and Earth – are held to correspond with, among other things, states of human consciousness which need to be aroused and activated. Hence, in the grade of Zelator, the initiatory ritual is designed to bring out the energies of earth in the candidate … Simply, those fundamental characteristics to which we refer when we [say] … ‘down to earth’. One effect of the Zelator ritual should be the increase of common sense and animal strength…

More study and practice follow, which work on bringing out further elemental energies of humankind: imagination, intellect, and emotion. This is in order to maximize all aspects of human potential which are usually repressed by the conscious ego or suppressed by external society, and then to balance them in perfect harmony.” (Suster, op.cit., p.105)

More specifically, if, as Fortune insists, an essential part of magic consists in confronting, harmonizing, and transmuting basic drives and energies, then in practice this is not so foreign to most of us. In terms of sexual magic, most of us, though strangers to the esoteric methods of sexual tantra, intuitively grasp that there is a significant difference between lust and sexual love, and that the self is altered and ‘spiritualized’ as a result of such love. In terms of magic in relation to fear and aggression, the East has long recognized martial art as a do (spiritual path) as well as a jutsu (fighting technique): the “way of the warrior” consisting essentially in confronting and transmuting his own basic energies of fear and aggression and not just the ability to batter people senseless. In terms of magic in relation to the confrontation with and transmutation of nature as a whole, well, we are all aware of the doubleedged “magic of technology” in this regard, as well as the aspects of nature mysticism associated with such decidedly ‘tantric’ figures as William Blake, Walt Whitman, D.H.Lawrence, and Richard Jefferies.

There is clearly sense, and even wisdom, in what Fortune is saying, even if the way she says it might sound strange. She is talking about selfknowledge and the understanding of the intimate roots of human motives, behaviours, and possibilities.

Nevertheless, I have some reservations.

Firstly, it seems both rather patronizing and question-begging to define ‘mystics’ as repressed cripples in the way she seems to. If anyone doubts that a mixture of honesty, intelligence, courage, and deep humanity can accomplish, without magical methods, the kind of non-repressed transmutation of the personality which Fortune reserves for magicians, I would refer them, just for a start, to St.Francis de Sales, St.Francis of Assisi, and Simone Weil.

Secondly, as Fortune herself admits, magic has dangers of its own, essentially related to the difference between white and black magic. If you know what “makes people tick”, and if you also have control over yourself and a strong will, then you can use this knowledge and power either to help or to harm. And, as I have suggested in the earlier parts of this investigation, at the lower levels of magic all this happens unconsciously; at the higher levels of magic, it happens consciously, and perhaps with the supplementation of ‘angelic’ or ‘demonic’ forces.

Concerning Fortune’s second claim – that religion and mysticism use the same methods as magic – this, if taken literally, clearly contradicts her first claim. You can’t on the one hand claim that magic is superior on account of the fact that it uses different and more complete methods than religion and mysticism, and then turn round and say (presumably as a propaganda exercise designed to give magic respectability) that it uses the same methods.

Stated more carefully, what Fortune’s point seems to amount to is that magic and religion have certain essential features in common, which is surely true. It cannot be denied that much religious ritual is clearly magical in its intent (in Fortune’s previously explained sense of the magic of invocation). And it cannot be denied that there are mystics in all traditions who have used magical methods (again in Fortune’s sense). A prime example would seem to be the author of The Way of a Pilgrim who solely used the ‘Jesus Prayer’ (“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me”) as a form of mantra or spell to constantly concentrate his will towards the presence of God. Yet it does not seem proven that the various ‘ways’ and ‘paths’ to God in both Eastern and Western spirituality all fit as neatly into Fortune’s definitions of magic as she seems to think. Magical elements will certainly enter into nearly all of them, since issues of focussing, controlling, and purifying the will and awareness, and of “invoking holy forces” through prayer and meditation, are central to every spiritual path. But there are especially two forms of religious spirituality which seem largely to elude Fortune’s definitions: one is the most ‘humble’ of all the paths; the other is the most ‘esoteric’.

The ‘humble’ path is that which in the East is called karma-yoga and in the West is called “the way of works” (or “the way of Martha”), and it is, it seems to me, however imperfectly achieved, the usual way of the devout in most religions. The least ‘magical’ and glamorous of all paths (the smile instead of the frown in difficult circumstances, the temper kept instead of lost in spite of provocation, the work well done with a concern not to let others down), its unostentatious service and good will nevertheless probably, in toto, achieves more of ‘the Great Work’ than any rituals of the magus.

The most ‘esoteric’ of all the paths of which I spoke concerns a phenomenon about which Fortune’s claim that all mysticism involves a passionate concentration of the will seems to be an inadequate description of the actual processes involved. It concerns the highest stages of mysticism, and the paradoxes involved for the will concerning wanting/not wanting if the “self is to die” in the final surrender leading to ‘divine union’. In Western mysticism, it is typified in such writings as Master Eckhart’s “Prayer of the Detached Heart” and St. John of the Cross’s poem “I’m dying that I do not die”. In Eastern mysticism, it is probably typified best by the (non-) methods of some forms of Ch’an or Zen Buddhism. It can be encapsulated by the following Zen koan :-

“How can grinding bricks make a mirror?”
“They cannot make a mirror.”
“Then how can meditation make a sage?”

© Mike Fuller 1993

Mike Fuller is the author of Truth, Value an d Justification (Avebury, 1991). He looks something like this.

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