Saturday, October 30, 2010

Morning of the Magicians: Magical Thinking for a New Age

"I have no doubt that in reality the future will be vastly more surprising than anything I can imagine. Now my own suspicion is that the Universe is not only queerer than we suppose, but queerer than we can suppose." --J. B. S. Haldane

Rationalists of a certain literal, materialistic mindset look at the world’s current state and its future trajectory, crunch the numbers and conclude that, with a high probability, we’re all doomed. It’s an understandable conclusion, too, if you project current capabilities and priorities linearly into the future. But what is missing from their equations — from their entire worldview, in fact — is the element of what I’ll call, for lack of a better word, "magic".

Magic is the discovery of fire, the development of language, the evolution of consciousness, the invention of religion, civilization, science and technology. Magic is the unforeseen game changer, the quantum leap in human powers, the singularity in human affairs which renders all previous predictions absurd. Magic is the force that drives us onward and upward, individually and collectively, to a destiny which is, for all practical purposes, infinite in all directions. Call it genius, divine inspiration or the hand of God if you prefer, but magic is exactly what must save us now, in our moment of great crisis.

Doomers call this magical thinking; they speak mockingly of "pixie dust and unicorn farts" when anyone dares to suggest that humanity will invent a way out of its "peak everything" predicament without vast suffering and loss of power. But magical thoughts are what we should be thinking, for humans are, above all else, the magic-wielding animals. Aleister Crowley defined magic as "the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with will", and bending the world to our will is what we do, far better than any other creatures in the known universe. The doomer tries to place an arbitrary upper bound on human meddling — "recognize your limits", they say, "find your place in the natural order", "don’t be greedy" — but what they’re really saying is we should reign in our magic powers — the one indispensable survival tool without which we truly are doomed.

Crowley said it well almost eighty years ago, at a similar moment of global crisis:
"We are in the middle of a world crisis. It is a very good world crisis — better than any crisis we have had before — and there is no man alive with an intellect big enough to grasp the threads of the problems which confront the world today. There are two ways out of that. Either consult a superior intelligence, which Magick shows you the way of doing, or you can develop your own mind, for it has a faculty which is as superior to the intellect as the intellect is superior to the emotions.

All magical operations require a very elaborate training of one kind or another, but I think the only way out is that we have got to put men in charge of this planet who are really more than men. We must get back to the times of the prophets or we must make ourselves prophets. And we must look at world problems from a standpoint which is entirely alien to that existing at present."

A few months after Crowley’s speech a man many consider to be a black magician and prophet of evil took the reigns of power in Germany, so we should be careful what we wish for. But the election of Barack Obama had a similar air of magic to it, as an improbable candidate rose from obscurity to cast a spell on an entire nation with his mesmerizing, messianic persona. As we again enter a period of escalating crisis and uncertainty, it seems that history is repeating itself and the magicians are being called upon to take over where less gifted leaders have failed.

But it will take more than oratory enchanters to solve our problems this time; we need wizards in the tradition of physicist-alchemist Isaac Newton, mystic-inventor Nikola Tesla, visionary polymath Buckminster Fuller and occultist-rocket scientist Jack Parsons. We need geniuses of science and invention who can produce the "energy miracles" that arch-mage Bill Gates recently called for, devise new methods of agriculture, new modes of industry and new forms of community. It may even take a prophet, like the mythical Moses, Viracocha and Lao-Tzu of previous ages, to inspire us to make the changes in our worldviews necessary for life in a new age. You could be one of these wizards, as could your child, or the girl next door. For wherever there are humans, there is magic, and wherever there is magic, there is hope. So while some say it’s almost midnight for mankind, I say it’s really the morning of the magicians.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A First Glimpse of Astral Reality

Well I’ve taken my first baby steps into the astral realms of the wizard, and it’s very exciting!  Following the advice of several books on magic, as well as my own inclinations, I’ve begun my training by mentally constructing a “magical place”.  This is a place of imagination and symbolism, safely removed from our world by whatever dimensional barrier separates the material from the astral.  This is the realm in which magic takes place.

First I imagined the impenetrable boundaries of my magical place, and visualized myself being transported through them into a land of complete security, which I’ll call “the Valley”.  I am advised not to discuss the details of this place with anyone, so as not to violate its sanctity.  I will just say that as I allowed my mind to fill in the landscape it became a vision of paradise. 

Next I established my astral body in the Valley, moving each finger, feeling each footstep and seeing each body part vividly in my mind’s eye, trying to make my astral self a second body, like a virtual reality avatar into my own imagination.  With this newfound body as a vehicle, I let myself wander through the Valley, taking in the sights, sounds, feelings, tastes and smells of everything that I encountered.  I didn’t consciously try to fill in the details; I just let things appear as they popped into my head.

The overall effect is quite amazing; I soon realized that I was dreaming, even though I was not actually asleep. There was an acute sense of being out of body, and when I finally returned to my normal awareness I felt like my consciousness had been teleported back into my physical body as I was jolted back to “reality”.  With practice, I imagine the astral realm could seem as real as the material plane, so that my return to the “real world” could just as easily be the onset of an astral journey from the point of view of the Valley.  I’m reminded of the famous story by the Taoist philosopher Zhuangzi:

Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.

The Taoist sages were legendary for their prowess at astral travel; in fact, I initially intended to take an Eastern path to wizardry via Taoism and Tibetan Buddhism.  However, on the advice of Carl Jung, who suggested that the esoterically inclined will get better results by staying within their own cultural traditions, I decided to investigate the Western esoteric teachings instead.  I’m so glad I listened to the wise Dr. Jung!  I had no idea there was such an elaborate tradition of inner exploration in the West.  The stereotypical mystical adept in my mind had always been a Tibetan monk or an Indian Yogi; how exciting to discover that wizards, druids and alchemists of similar knowledge have existed for thousands of years in the West.  There is an air of greater secrecy surrounding this knowledge in the West, due I suppose to the oppressive nature of the Western exoteric religions, but that just adds to the appeal.  Western magic also fits much better in a Western society; the traditional asceticism of Eastern adepts is pretty hard to duplicate in our materialistic modern world.

In reality it probably doesn’t matter that much which path you take into the astral realms.  Whether you study Hermetic magic, the Kabbalah, Taoist meditation, archaic Shamanism or modern techniques like Lucid Dreaming and Remote Viewing, you’re eventually going to experience the same phenomena.  The universality of astral travel and other magical practices should make even the most skeptical person realize that they are as real as other universal mental disciplines such as mathematics, music or poetry.

You might be thinking: astral travel sounds interesting, but what good is it?  I think the answer is that in the astral realm, which is really the realm of your unconscious mind, you can access parts of your mind that aren’t available to your conscious self.  You may learn something important about yourself, or you might tap into some transpersonal perceptive power such as prophecy or clairvoyance.  The astral state is the dream state, so it offers all the potential insights attributed to dreams.  For someone like me, who almost never remembers my dreams, astral projection is a nice alternative route to the same inner landscape.

I’m still a newbie to all of this, but from my first impressions I would say that a magical place and an astral body are very much worth the effort required to develop them.  Even if you don’t have revelatory experiences there, it’s nice to know that no matter what happens in this world, you’ll always have a sanctuary to retreat to where magic works and paradise is real.

Monday, October 11, 2010

It's a Wizard's World!

"This is the awe-inspiring universe of magic: There are no atoms, only waves and motions all around. Here, you discard all belief in barriers to understanding. You put aside understanding itself. This universe cannot be seen, cannot be heard, cannot be detected in any way by fixed perceptions. It is the ultimate void where no preordained screens occur upon which forms may be projected. You have only one awareness here — the screen of the magi: Imagination! Here, you learn what it is to be human. You are a creator of order, of beautiful shapes and systems, an organizer of chaos." –Frank Herbert (Heretics of Dune)

This post is an introduction to a thesis I find very compelling, and which I hope to develop into a book which I’m tentatively calling: Wizard’s World: A Magical History of Mankind.

As I envision him, the wizard is any man (or woman) who places no limits on the powers of his mind. He may be a prophet, a mystic, a scientist, a writer, an artist or an inventor. The wizard is the imaginer of the impossible and the engineer of the possible. In my version of history, the prime movers have all been wizards. Some examples:

Prophets and philosophers: Moses, Viracocha, Hermes, Lao-Tzu, Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, Mohammad, Descartes, Joseph Smith, Friedrich Nietzsche

Scientists: Archimedes, Copernicus, Bruno, Galileo, Newton, Faraday, Gauss, Darwin, Einstein, Teller, Feynman, Hawking

Engineers and inventors: Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, Nikola Tesla, Robert Goddard, Buckminster Fuller, Werner von Braun, Jack Parsons, Tim Berners-Lee

Artists: Da Vinci, Hieronymus Bosch, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali, Jack Kirby

SF/Fantasy Writers: Jules Verne, H. P. Lovecraft, J.R.R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, Gene Roddenberry, Alan Moore

Other Visionaries: Nostradamus, John Dee, Benjamin Franklin, Carl Jung, Aldous Huxley, Kenneth Boulding, Carl Sagan, Terence McKenna, Howard Bloom, Ray Kurzweil

And long before all these luminaries, the first fire maker, the cave painters, the primeval shamans, the inventors of the bow, agriculture, the wheel, money and metallurgy were all wizards, whose names we will never know yet to whom we owe so much.

The wizard is a conduit for cosmic forces, by whose imagination the course of history is altered and human knowledge and power are inexorably increased. The wizard was there at the dawn of man, before all formal science and religion, casting his spells, studying nature and seeing visions of the realms beyond. The wizard is a force of nature; he operates beyond good and evil and outside of human time or understanding.

Today wizards are more powerful than ever, though they are rarely called by their true name. For what are Ray Kurzweil, Steve Jobs, George Lucas, James Cameron, Michio Kaku and even Barack Obama, if not wizards? Do they not, by the force of their imaginations, empower and inspire us with their visions of things which have never been? What is cyberspace, with its blogosphere, social networks and massively multiplayer role-playing games, but a magical dimension -- a pure mental creation which alters our shared reality every day in countless ways? What are televisions, telephones and computers but tools of clairvoyance, telepathy, divination and astral projection? Look around you: we are living in an unprecedented age of magic!

And the news gets even better! Because science, which since the so-called “Enlightenment” has been hard at work trying to bury “magical thinking”, has come around to a worldview which is as arcane, abstract and mysterious as the wildest imaginings of any mystic! Quantum theory suggests that human consciousness is inseparable from matter; relativity says energy is equivalent to mass, and space and time are not absolute dimensions, but dependent on your frame of reference; string theory posits an eleven-dimensional multiverse and cosmologists speak of "dark matter", "dark energy" and super-massive black holes. What madness is this? In the middle ages anyone making such outlandish metaphysical claims would have been labeled sorcerers and burned at the stake!

But today, now that the mechanistic Newtonian paradigm and the dogmatic religious theologies have lost their strangleholds on the human imagination, the universe has been revealed to be as strange as the wild-eyed mystics have been telling us all along. So rejoice, all ye chaos-shapers, psychics and would-be sorcerers: in a post-religion, post-Newtonian world, magical thinking is back and it’s once again a wizard’s world!

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