A World of Experiences

The principle that I am adopting is that consciousness presupposes experience, and not experience consciousness.

Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality (Corrected Edition, 53)

Whitehead and spiritualism seem a bit like peanut butter and chocolate to me, so I thought I would throw up a post about this quote. I’ll unpack the two key terms in it before diving into the spiritualist angle.

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The Virtues of Knowing Who You Are

My partner has had a copy of Alison Butler’s Victorian Occultism and the Making of Modern Magic: Invoking Tradition lying about the place for a few weeks. I’ve cracked it open and start reading at random; so far, it has always been interesting. Besides thinking that the book would have sounded sexier had the title and subtitle been transposed, it is pretty much all I could ask for from a scholarly book on the matter. It embeds the Golden Dawn in a broader historical horizon and it does so with frequent appeal to biographical detail.

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Something has been gnawing at me since I read Gordon’s recent post over on Runesoup: he loosely identifies a chunk of what he describes in his praxis org chart as shamanic. When we talk about shamanism, are we really talking about things like energy work and meditation? That sort of identification doesn’t seem out of place in Western magical circles, we are, but I don’t see it capturing what goes on in ‘traditional shamanic practices’ (would that I could put flashing lights on those scare quotes–the whole set of notions are so fraught).

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Gnostic Circuit and Sympathetic Responses

I talked a little about the ceremonial-hermetic and spiritist circuits in the last post, but made an obvious ommission, the gnostic circuit. This circuit cuts straight through the heart of the coil and provides the backbone for pretty much all initiatory practices. Folks familiar with the Kabbalah will recognize this as the middle pillar, the straight road that joins Keter, Daath, Tifaret, Yesod, and Malkuth. No matter the initiatory circuits favored, the gnostic one will necessarily come into play. Activated, it will activate the entire coil in sympathy. This sympathetic activation is part of what leads to the confusion of circuits. A spiritualist who work activates Hod will have magician-like experiences but without having the tools to manipulate them properly, and vice versa.

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Glittering Antiquity

Okay, while I’m at the keyboard and thinking about consciousness and magic, I’ll gripe just a little. (And, by gripe, I do mean to imply a certain lightness to what follows–not a burning critique, just a little grousing.) Why in the world are some folks deadset on making magic and spirits something that emerges from some era untouched by the taint of modernity? I get that, yes, there are a number of cool techniques that have developed in history that got sidelined in the eager march of materialism and that some salvage operations are in order. I get, too, that some of those techniques are connected to specific sorts of spirits and so developing those techniques requires a little face time with spirits we have come to associate with a (more or less) distant past.

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What’s in a name?

Back in my university days, I took a seminar with a professor who, whenever the conversation began to flag, would pose the same question in appropriately thoughtful tones: “So, this book we’re talking about is called [fill in title here], why do you think that is?” It’s a bit silly of a question and I’ll confess that as conversation slowed a few of us would glance across the table with knowing looks, waiting for what would inevitably fill the silence. Still, it’s not a bad pedagogical technique. Silly as it is, it would get people talking again and engaged with the substance of the book even if we chuckled to ourselves or rolled our eyes as we were doing it.

[Good advice: don’t be afraid to look silly, but only if you accept an important bit of qualifying advice of don’t try to be silly.]

Which is why for the first post I am going to pose that very question to myself and answer it. I want to get myself talking and this seems like as good a trick as any. It might even be one of the better question I could start with, so thanks Dr. Sullivan.

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