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Beltane approaches, and what passes for spring in these Isles sort of comes and goes, sunny one day, glacial the next. Something has munched the leaves of the mandrakes in the greenhouse so they have come back indoors. Toadmass passed rather quietly this year without the usual raucous late night shagathon, but a few thousand toadpoles now cruise the waters in the grounds of Chateaux Chaos.
We have just had ‘Mercury Month’ on Arcanorium College and I chose to invoke the Mercurial-Ouranian archetype as exemplified by Thoth, in the EPOCH.
What follows derives in part from that.
Okay then, fingers on buzzers, your starter for ten thousand fawning acolytes: - define precisely what enlightenments come from sex and drugs. (No references to those mega-frauds Rajneesh and Castaneda permitted, and please go easy on the Crowley.)
From an early stage I decided upon a Macgregor Mathers rather than an Aleister Crowley type role. The sex and drugs ‘revolutions’ had already become a bit passé to serious thinkers by the late nineteen eighties anyway. However they did play a significant role in the whole ‘magical-revival-counter-cultural-new-age-neopagan’ subcultural meme that developed from the late sixties onwards.
Like most cultural developments in the UK, this tended to proceed in a top-down fashion with those from more wealthy and educated backgrounds getting into it first as the postwar economy gradually began to take off and people felt they had the freedom to experiment with non-mainstream identities.
Now that all social classes of western society have access to drugs and sexual freedoms and esoteric ideas, mind-altering (as opposed to mood-changing) drugs have tended to go out of fashion from the top down, and perhaps because of a perceived lack of slack in tightening economies, the willingness, and leisure to experiment with esoteric and magical ideas and identities seems to have decreased from its former popularity.
We probably passed peak esoteric booksales some years ago, and the participants at esoteric festivals and meetings seem generally well past their formative years these days.
If young people can tear themselves away from online social media and entertainment and career anxiety at all these days, they tend to do so only to engage in single-issue causes such as animal rights, vegetarianism, rainforests, or some form of anti-fascism; depending on whatever gets defined as the fascism of the month. Plus a few will always want to actually adopt the current fascism.
So what forms of magic and esoterics can the future hold?
What can the magical-esoteric paradigm bring to the table?
I like to think that it brings ‘The Promethean Quest of Will and Imagination’.
Firstly to Imagination.
Various esoteric practices such as divination, sortilege, visualisation, contemplative meditation, and invocation act to increase the imagination. Mind altering drugs can also do this and their new widespread availability played a part in the last magical revival
Imagination runs on a spectrum from Apophenia, the ability to perceive useful hidden connections between phenomena that others haven’t yet spotted, to Pareidolia, the ability to perceive connections between phenomena that will always remain questionable, to Superstition, the ability to perceive non-existent connections between phenomena, for example between the malignant forces in conspiracy theories, or between astrological charts and personality. (If astrology had any predictive power, then humans would have adopted strong taboos against mating during January and February so as to prevent the birth of those invariably evil Scorpios.)
‘Occult’ thinking at its best seeks out the hidden connections between phenomena and as such it has started new religions, undermined existing religions, initiated new sciences, and undermined old sciences. At its worst it merely creates nonsense when it fails to fractionate the crud of Superstition from the Pareidolic raw material and then to distil from it the elixir of Apophenia and to test it against reality. Nothing has Ultimate Truth, and All Things Remain Possible. However we should not waste time on ideas that simultaneously exhibit unfalsifiability and dysfunctionality.
Mind altering drugs merely lower the resistance of the synaptic connections between brain cells, allowing nervous impulses to cascade wildly through the brain stimulating unusual connections, a few of which may prove interesting, but most of which prove useless or merely entertaining. Now that so-called entheogens have become commonplace the slimy ruse of distributing them and supervising their use to gain a bit of importance and some power and influence over the users has worn a bit thin, particularly as most people now regard them as merely Smurfogenic and more likely to lead to visions of those little blue people from the television series than to enlightenment.
And secondly to Will.
‘Magical Thinking’ primarily means a belief in the power of intent. Intent works best when the magician believes in its power but also does everything else possible to bring about the desired result rather than just relying upon the capricious and rather erratic parapsychological power of intent alone. The trick here lies in regarding the ‘everything else possible’ as a series of additional magical acts, necessary to the accomplishment of something difficult or improbable.
Mind altering drugs may have some ability to stimulate the Imagination but they seriously undermine the Will. It remains pretty well impossible to maintain focus on casting a spell or an enchantment or even to remain focussed on a simple intent whilst under their influence, and chronic use tends to erode the capacity for memory and willed intention long-term.
Thus the establishment had little to fear from the ideas of the hippy counterculture for the very drugs which stimulated those ideas also undermined the capacity to make them work. Turn on, tune in, drop out, - and screw up.
Sex can stimulate both the Will and the Imagination. We all arrive on earth equipped with a biological instinct to resist death on a moment to moment basis and on a longer term basis by procreation. This instinct easily gets displaced, subverted, or perverted, or even inverted, because we have such enormous suggestibility and imagination. People will do almost anything from going to war, to wearing horribly uncomfortable and expensive clothing, to extreme physical or mental exertions, to acquiring vast power, wealth, and fame, to starving themselves dangerously thin, to building ridiculously large muscles, and many lesser variants on such activities; all to basically demonstrate their reproductive fitness or something symbolic or subconsciously representative of it.
The Sex & Death instinct thus underlies so much of our motivation, including most of the Fear & Desire, Love & Hate, and Identity & Magic dualities. Sigmund Freud understood this but then went on to build a huge speculative and unscientific edifice upon his basic insight.
‘Sex Magic’ consists of much more, and much less, than meets the eye: -
On the simplest level orgasm creates ‘Gnosis’. Concentrating on some spell or sigil or divinatory question or source of inspiration at the moment of orgasm can serve to inflame the mind with it and create some extraordinary results.
On a slightly more complicated level, sexuality can empower almost any activity and working in a sexually charged atmosphere tends to enhance performance and motivation. Actual sexual activity of course works, but so does mere sexual tension (so called polarity work), or even unrequited attraction.
End of story. Anyone claiming anything more just wants to sell you something.
The sex and drugs revolutions have become assimilated into the general cultural background and the residual search for ever more peculiar forms of sexual expression and ever more exotic and obscure hallucinogens seems unlikely to throw up any further illuminating surprises. So what forms of magic may the esotericists of the 21st century get into?
The new perception of scarcity, particularly with reference to accommodation and economic opportunities for the young, should incentivise Results Magic. That means magic to bring about tangible effects like academic success, career advancement, business start-ups, property acquisition, and high ability mate acquisition. The wizards of the next few decades will probably have to achieve measurable success in the world to get taken seriously. Mere mysticism won’t cut it any more.
The quality of life in the developed world has not increased over the last several decades because the increasingly frantic pace of life in which everything speeds up year on year has negated the benefits of the material and technical improvements which have caused that acceleration. The magicians of the 21st century perhaps need to explore the slow aesthetic, to consume culture in a more discriminating fashion, to make things carefully by hand, to write more slowly and carefully, to spend time just staring at the sky once again. I do not use a mobile phone; it might spoil my long walks.
The new perception of the perilous state of the planetary climate and ecology should provide plenty of scope for magicians to try their skills for higher causes. We need to divine for the identities and motives of the climatological and ecocidal planet wreckers, and enchant for their behaviour change or demise.
The new perception of science beginning to dabble with the actual fundamentals of existence in biology, neuroscience, cosmology, and the quantum domain, behoves the contemporary wizard to remain abreast or ahead of such developments, as wizards always did in the past. As we pointed out in the EPOCH, somewhere in the vast curved spacetime of the universe the knowledge we seek almost certainly already exists, and by Stellar Magic we can perhaps avoid blind alleys, phlogiston theories, and disastrous misapplications with existential consequences.
The majority of magicians and esotericists now seem to spend more time interacting with each other online rather than face to face in Moots, Covens, and Orders. This has tended to widen debate but also to often reduce it to a mere cacophony of abusively conflicting opinions as the costs of such behaviour become as negligible as the benefits.
Both online and in real world meetings, Better Discipline and More Research & Development seem desirable.
I don't do social media and my Specularium site does not use a reply facility although I do receive emails sent to it.
However people have drawn my attention to the activities of Nathaniel Harris as he has started up again on the social media.
Nathaniel Harris joined a section of the UK IOT well after I retired about 20 years ago. When he first moved to the same city as me about 6 years ago we had a brief pub lunch at which he convinced me that he had become paranoid and deluded. Since then I have exchanged a few emails with him in the hope of trying to talk some sense into him, and to get him to moderate his writing and online ranting, but to little avail.
It seems to me that some members of the UK IOT played a lot of silly cult and personal games involving the fragile Nathaniel and that he subsequently developed a huge paranoid conspiracy theory involving bizarre criminal accusations. The authorities can find no substance in any of this, but Social Services have denied him custody of his own child and also that of the custody of his current girlfriend's child. The Police have been to see him about his bizarre behaviour and he has been taken in for psychiatric observation.
He certainly seems to have made an unfortunate mess of his life and to have developed a bizarre conspiracy theory to excuse and 'explain' that to himself. In particular I suspect that his now much regretted gay affair with Peter Mastin has led him to rationalize that Mastin must have acted as some great satanic mastermind.
If you want to see the full nonsense then read Nathaniel Harris' website in full, it all adds up to a depressing cacophony of paranoia in which he ends up accusing just about anyone he ever knew or even just read about.
I feel rather glad that I retired when I did whilst it still remained fun, ideas driven, and full of high achieving people. I would not have admitted Nathaniel or several others who now form the circular firing squad around the wreckage of the UK IOT section.