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Paths, processes and systems - part 2

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Jul. 30th, 2010 | 10:19 pm

Part two of the emails I sent to M to start to lay out this world and the different beliefs about how it works, or could work. This one's about what you can and can't do, the "processes" of the title above. As before, comments extremely welcome - it's not meant to be totally complete in and of itself, but hopefully it's a good starting point.

There's paths, and there's processes, and together they form systems that within them include ways to perceive and work with the spiritual/magical world as well as ways to make sure people play safe, play nice and don't fuck themselves or anyone else over. I've described the "who", i.e. a few of the existing systems (which you may already have mostly known about) in Part 1. Now I'll come back to the "what" that is more about what different people/systems think you can do.

First, the restrictions.

Every system or path has some kind of inbuilt restriction to keep people from getting silly and thinking it's their right to do harm or that they can try anything without fear of consequences.

For example the Wiccan Rede states "Do as thou wilt, an it harm none" - a basic statement that yes, you're allowed to choose your own actions but you take responsibility for doing so and must really think about it - "none" is a pretty broad thing when you consider it carefully and in detail. (Crowley was famous for saying "Do as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law", and there's a reason he's usually cast as a pretty bad and weird guy.)

Another restriction from the New Age category is the Law of Threefold Return which says that whatever you put out there will return to you threefold. So if you are generous your generosity is returned, if you are mean you will seriously pay for it. It's a quantitative version of karma, which is a softer more qualitative restriction from the New Age category.

Another common restriction particularly at what might be considered "higher" levels of training, and the one that occurs in the one system I know of where people believe they are truly getting extreme results, is that you can never do anything for your own gain, including learning the skills for the love of learning them. Systems that really push this produce a lot of healers and teachers (and in the one system I mentioned above, protectors). For that matter, most systems tend to produce healers and teachers because people typically respond to their experiences with a need to share or to do good in some way. (I am unusual in that my native direction is explorer/navigator. It comes with a decent helping of communicator, but that takes the form of diplomacy and keeping people connected rather than the more typical teaching focus. I'd be more likely to use my magic to, say, keep the Internet running than to fix a broken arm.)

Then there's the simplest of restrictions: that most magic in most systems is performed within "safe" ground that has been warded and consecrated (eg sacred circles and churches, and yes, I've come across churches that I can't enter). This limits the effect of the magic in the external world and also limits the ability of external forces to alter what you are doing.

Many systems also just use the subtle political restriction of not teaching you stuff you can misuse until you've shown you can handle it and until enough people know you to keep half an eye on you if you start acting weird. That's why some systems (eg Wicca) have formally tiered teaching based on initiation levels, and they explicitly up your responsibility level with each initiation before you start getting the teaching. Druidry is a less strictly tiered example, which just makes sure that its first section of teaching is lots of psychological integration and internal balance so that you have the maximum chances to get over yourself before hitting the more complicated stuff.

Let's look at some things different people try and do.

Some of these are basic, some are extreme, some are silly, some are only silly until you find yourself facing them on a dark night. It's not a complete list, just what I can think of now.

More standard:
Warding a space or person
Cleansing a space or person
Blessing a space or person or food or drink or other item
Consecrating a space or person
Healing an entity (person, creature, plant, landscape, planet etc)
Casting a circle (usually includes warding, cleansing and consecrating within the process)
Invocation of appropriate outside "powers" (elemental forces, guardian angels, archangels, totem spirits, gods, demi-mortals etc)
Knowledge of far events and places ("far" being outside immediate perception)
Seeking/receiving spiritual guidance
Seeking/receiving spiritual transformation
Reading omens or signs
Seeing the future (I was going to call this less standard but lots of people try it because they're curious so it counts as standard I guess. For the record, you can truly see the future in several different systems, but the winning Lotto numbers you see don't usually come with the correct date attached.)

Less standard / more weird / more flaky:
Group telepathy / shared psychic experience
Walking between worlds
Communicating with the dead
Communicating with plants, animals, rocks or other "non-sentient" entities
Altering of others' perceptions
Creation of light
Communicating with "fantastic" entities such as demigods, mythical beasts, fairies, other supernatural creatures
Seeing the past

Many of these things have internal limitations (eg the Lotto numbers), and you'll find people who try them tend to have their own balance of faith and evidence that it's true/real. Some people can't "feel" that it's real and operate solely on faith, others can't feel it and don't have complete faith but just hope, others get little bits of evidence here or there that make them think twice, others know beyond a doubt what just happened. In the latter category is someone I knew who learnt psychokinesis practising on feathers, and someone who watched a log turn into a hiding person in front of them. That's why I say that some things are only silly until you're faced with them. None of the belief systems that I know of quite accurately capture the real world out there (and by real I mean the one that includes the spiritual and magical). They just do various kinds of approximations, some closer than others, and you can get quite startled when something that your beliefs had classed in the "crazy" pile suddenly seems like the most logical answer for what just happened.

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Comments {4}


in defence of Crowley

from: strangedave
date: Jul. 30th, 2010 01:36 pm (UTC)

OK, so I'm a big Crowley fan, and more or less a follower of his system. The guy had plenty of personal flaws (but so do many other spiritual leaders), but that doesn't necessarily reflect on his philosophy. Most people that talk about how wicked his philosophy is haven't read him properly. Not that I'm saying he wasn't a deeply flawed human being - but the flaws of him as a person aren't necessarily reflected in his writings or system.

The thing that people who claim the wiccan rede is clearly morally superior to Crowleys original don't usually understand is that in practice Crowley always followed up 'Do what thou Wilt shall be the whole of the Law' with 'Love is the Law, Love Under Will' (they are call and response in many rituals, for example, and he used them as closing and opening statements of formal letters to students), and he would have objected just as strongly to taking the one part in isolation without the other. In other words, where the wiccans say that you should judge actions by their consequences and not try to cause harm, Crowley says you should be looking to act with love (universal agape, to be precise). Of course, you can't really know the consequences *before* the action, so the two paths can be quite similar in practice. There are real differences between the two approaches, but it is certainly not as simple as 'wiccans add moral restraint' as you've implied here - Crowley fans could just as much argue that by making the rede only about consequences, not intent, the Wiccans have taken something important away.

It is also worth noting that when he says 'do what thou Wilt', he uses Will in a different sense to just passing desire. The idea of Will is very important in Crowleys system (to the extent that the Greek word for Will, Thelema, is usually used to identify it), and did not simply reflect passing desire - rather, an important part of his system is find ones True Will, and many aspects of the system (including the close identification with selfless love) make it clear that, while it might differ between individuals, it can generally be considered a higher, more spiritual, part of the self -- and is sometimes specifically distinguished from desire, or 'lust of result'.

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Re: in defence of Crowley

from: tozgirl
date: Jul. 31st, 2010 04:02 am (UTC)

Oh, excellent. I knew when writing these that I'd be missing bits and not getting others as right as I could, and I hoped any large misdirects or errors would get pointed out to me. Thank you! I know only a little about any of the Wiccan forms, mostly what I've seen from the outside and naturally that's prone to misinterpretation, so any elucidation is always helpful.

What you write is quite interesting. I like the idea of intent being as important as consequences, and also the way Will is conceived.

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Re: in defence of Crowley

from: strangedave
date: Aug. 3rd, 2010 12:23 pm (UTC)

Crowleyan stuff usually doesn't have much directly to do with Wicca - Crowleys own work and writing was mostly very much in a more ritual magic and/or masonic tradition (a lot his early magical experience was as a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and the major Thelemic organisation, the Ordo Templi Orientis, is quite psuedo-masonic, he encourages magical study of things like the Kabbalah, Enochian, Tarot, etc.).

The Wiccan link is mostly via Gerald Gardner, who of course has a very important role in Wiccan history, and who was an associate of Crowley (recent documentation has come to light to indicate he actually held an OTO lodge charter). Quite a bit of early Gardnerian Wicca has a discernable Crowley influence, though later Wiccan leaders seem to have consciously 'de-Crowleyified' it a bit (and the Gardnerian tradition is only one of several Wiccan/ witchy traditions). The two systems still have some back and forth (it is not uncommon for people to be members of both either at the same time or at different times, at least from out point of view), there is a small joint tradition of thelemic wicca, etc), but in a formal sense they are mostly quite separate.

The core of Crowleys tradition is that you start out with ritual magick stuff (banishings, invocations, scrying, etc), but gradually transition to more mystic (and optionally religious) practices, and can get quite philosophical. There is a Holy Book in the tradition, the Book of the Law, that was revealed to him by a spirit believed to be his Holy Guardian Angel over three days, and this aspect having his tradition having a holy book and a prophet etc distinguishes it from the wiccan tradition.

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Re: in defence of Crowley

from: tozgirl
date: Aug. 10th, 2010 01:53 am (UTC)

Very interesting.

Also, I can't believe I completely missed that whole category of magic practitioners, the more hermetic including Golden Dawn, Masonry and (as you say) Crowley's tradition. Especially not since Druidry draws on it so frequently. You're quite right, that should have been entirely its own grouping in the post.

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