“Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it” – Roal Dahl
“The only dangerous thing about magic is that it works.” – Unknown
I’m not one to bury the lead. I believe in spirits. My relationship to belief creates context here and that will be a theme over my entire blogging arc here at Grimerica. So here’s the Cliff’s Notes version: I use belief as a tool. I don’t consider the truthiness of things I believe. I consider the beliefs’ effectiveness to effect the change I seek, and choose accordingly. Mostly, there are important exceptions, and that too will eventually feature in some articles.
There is however, a process of refinement. It’s not a dice game, it’s about playing your best hand to maximize your odds. +EV
Now let’s narrow it down, flesh out the model.
- What’s a spirit?
This guy wrote my favorite definition of spirit here. It’s part of a series of articles called “Asatru for Atheists”. Essentially it defines spirit as an aggregate of qualities of a thing which may or may not be manifest in matter. Read this excerpt:
Let us take, for example, the spirit of a sword and examine what it is in terms of information. Obviously, it is a sword – but what is a sword, and how do we recognise such a thing? In our minds we generally have a list of possibilities, each characterised by a cluster of properties, which we compare to what we are looking at. For example, a sword is solid, can be large or small, is long and sharp (but not inevitably so), is usually made of metal, may have one or two sharpened edges, may be pointed etc. These things are, in essence, the ‘spirit’ of the generic sword.
That objects have spirits consisting of the characteristics that define them is a notion first expounded upon in detail by Plato, several thousand years ago. He posited a ‘Platonic Realm’ of ‘Ideal Forms’ of which our world was only an imperfect shadow. The notion of Platonic perfection is still present today in branches of modern physics – some highly speculative. I limit myself here to discussing the notion of ‘spirit’ in the context of information theory of contemporary science, but will return to it later.
We now know the ‘spirit of sword’. It is not much of a leap to extend the idea to encompass type and individuality, i.e. to imagine that a particular sword type might have a more highly defined spirit. In the case of a Viking sword, the attributes of ‘sword’ become more specific; namely its steel, its unique shape of blade, guard, pommel and decoration. One can further refine all this to the point where a particular Viking sword is recognised.
That’s pretty much it. A spirit is a bunch of things linked together that describe and/or make up another thing that is perceived (which, come to think of it, is a good description of just about everything). You’ve heard the story of the tribal leader talking about his knife. He explains how the knife has been in his family for centuries. They changed the handle a few times and the blade a few times. But it’s still the same knife. In greek philosophy, this paradox was known as Theseus’ paradox (link).
Now, if you allow for ideas, emotions, instincts to be things, then you start getting close to an inkling of my model of spirits. And you have to allow it because I can’t honestly say I’ve ever gotten results from invoking the spirit of an actual thing (some people apparently have). It has been much more effective (very effective I’d say) to invoke the spirit of ideas anchored to a thing representing them. At this point my soundbite definition of spirit seems in order: The exteriorization of the commonly interiorized. It’s clunky and incomplete. I might make an attempt at discussing the empirical evidence for the existence of independently sentient consciousness at some point but don’t hold your breath, it isn’t my specialization. For now the above model works as a stepping stone towards the description of what it is I experience.
Good question. So let’s take for instance, the god Mars. Basically, Mars – other than being a floating ball in space, which is impressive enough – is an empty vortex for the aggregation of inter-related ideas, emotions and instincts too complex and fleeting to grasp in a simultaneous manner. Linearity need not apply. So though I suspect an invocation to Mars is simply a calling out of what is within, I “believe” the planet Mars is a spirit I can contact in a variety of ways so that I/it may enact change in my Self/my reality. Not because that this is more true but also not in spite of it being false. Rather, the belief of it being the calling upon something larger than me makes the invocation a more potent experience. The belief is the experience. Experience and belief, will and perception. There’s a neither/neither relationship there.
One way to describe the mechanism of magic, is to liken it to a binary system. A thing is in a state of on or off and I use magic to flip it to the other state. It is way more spectrum-y and unpredictable than that, but for the sake of functionality this description works – I invoke the spirit of truncation discussed in Madman’s guid Vol. 1 Issue 2. So in the case of Mars, let’s say I fear conflict and am incompetent at managing it but conflict is present. I invoke Mars to flip that around to graduate towards the relishing of conflict for the competent ending or resolving of it. When the result is obtained, I make a payment to suspend the operation. Or in the case of failure, go back to the drawing board.
If I were to approach this same problem in a common manner and actually spell out all the things I would need to do and think to achieve the same result I get from invoking Mars, I’d be here for 16 years (which is probably why works of fiction can have such major impact on the world). That’s the thing with symbols, they demarcate the limits of intellectual dissection and announce the beginning of mystery and assimilation.
The spirit of Mars is monumentally more nuanced and fluid than my linear mind can handle (another way to think of it is that invocation is the tapping into the genetic memory of my ancestors at some time doing a similar thing). So this becomes a pragmatic issue. Invocation is the most effective method for me to simultaneously apprehend and apply a vaguely defined set of multiple moving concepts, inter-connected in a super-complex manner. It’s not the front-of-mind thinking which has become so valued in modern society. It’s more something you turn on, aim and ignore. It can appear to be a passive thing in the day-to-day working of it actually.
Wait there’s more! You see, because this invocation stuff has a lot of history and a built-up egregore in constant movement, I can’t just dive in an invocation and expect my mind will tune into the Mars spirit. The egregore is a large part of this spirit, and so to use it is to tweak that invocation dial closer to the frequency I need. Trust me, I tried burning a dollar store incense stick and waving a steak knife over a tea light in the hopes Mars would respond. It was pretty much the most impotent thing I’ve ever attempted. But then I read some books. I found out which plants are under which planet, studied planetary associations. How the Greeks did their thing, the Egyptians. What, in legend pleased Mars? Why? I make no claim to be an expert because I clearly am not one, but I am making a special effort to be honest. This is a process of gut feel and trial-and-error with an emphasis on the courage of admitting error and enduring trial. But, you see, with this time spent I’m more committed (Jason Miller would call this, investment in a “current”). So no matter how you look at it I think I’m in much better shape. If spirits are an interior thing made exterior, then it’s advantageous that my psyche be invested. If spirits really are exterior, I figure they’ll be more likely to pay attention to someone showing a real interest in them. I figure this because they have.
I see magic as a system for wrangling my Self into a more cohesive and deliberate whole. This necessitates that I wrench parts of me from their centre so that I may look at myself from different angles. If I hadn’t been born into a mind control situation with the spirit of God thrust upon me without my consent, I probably wouldn’t have reason to consider the state of my cognitive sovereignty. But I was and I do.
There’s probably more to spirits than this of course. When you start thinking that ideas are stored in matter (the brain) and muscles have memory, and that DNA is kind of like a book all of which can be accessed by a willing Self. It’s not much of stretch to think maybe other types of matter can store raw information that may be accessible via the stretching of psychic tendrils. And I’ve had my share of unusual experiences that would tip a less skeptical person in a direction I am not compelled to entertain. Call it suspicion of certainty.
Lately I’ve found myself crossing over into ambivalence about the reality of non-material sentience to an interest in the evidence. But the exactitude of all this is an ancillary concern of mine. I refuse to sell myself as a slave to empiricism. I’d rather try and relax into my worldview – so please please please, you are welcome to remind me to chill out about all this. I’ll be grateful. Figuring out what’s true is my hobby at best. Some people collect stamps. That’s at least as valid a pastime.
As the holy bard Terrence McKenna once said in response to the question “Is it the Truth?”
“Well, it’s true enough!”