Friday, 18 November 2011 21:32


Review. Imaginal Reality, Voidcraft, volumes 1 and 2. Aaron B. Daniels. Aeon Books.

Over 400 pages of tight print, plus illustrations by Laura M. Daniels.

When this curious bundle of surprises arrived I felt thricely intrigued to note that I had apparently already written a back cover pump for it, as had an IOT Pact Magus who pronounced it ‘the finest book on contemporary existential magic he had ever read’.

I do recall that Professor Daniels had sometime ago emailed me a draft of it and that I had opined that it looked like ‘a full cerebral download’ and that as such, it probably needed to appear as two books, which it now does. However he does seem to have extensively re-written it as well.

Nevertheless my comment of ‘Full Cerebral Download’ still stands. Here we have in these two volumes, a huge rambling tome that seemingly touches on just about everything remotely connected to the Professor’s thoughts on philosophy, psychology, biography, magic, imagination, and occulture. Expect an uneven and challenging read, as this opus lurches wildly across a whole spectrum of disciplines, you may also need a dictionary to hand.

After a bit of a struggle with volume one, I found a reading method that suited. I treated these books as a ‘Late Night Philosophy Rant with a Friend’. I think you need to read a bit, stop, marshal your objections, and argue back for a while, and then read some more, rather than just plough through it doggedly.

Except where they have the temerity to assert and defend some sort of positive position on ethics, ontology, or metaphysics, most philosophers have become the askers of awkward questions and the keepers of useful sarcasms. They tend to wield the razor of destructive analysis more than they use the trowel of construction. Daniels comes pretty close to cutting himself with the razor of existentialism and he has some pretty cutting things to say about the pretensions, evasions, and delusions of magic and spirituality and the whole occult, esoteric, and new-age scene.

The whole meaningless-meaningful duality seems to vex him mightily. Existentialism can wield the razor of over-mighty intellect with enough sullen violence to nihilisticaly extirpate the meaning from anything, and he presents us with visions of void-ness and emptiness.  He quips that his students call him Dr. Downer.  

However he offers his own antidote; in the absence of given meanings we need to become the meaning makers ourselves. We also need to experience the moment of the here and now, (presumably, temporarily without the encumbrance of the mighty analytical intellect or the second-hand meaning structures that our commercialised cultures offer).  The ideas and symbols and glamour of magic provide a language in which we can construct our own meanings and identities, (except where commercially provided of course).

All this comes pretty close to the Chaos Magic perspective of treating belief as a tool rather than as an end in itself, and indeed the whole corpus of Voidcraft makes numerous references to Chaos Magic.

If philosophers have become the keepers of useful sarcasms then perhaps we can liken psychologists to people trying to map a very cluttered and complicated building in pitch darkness by daubing faintly luminous coloured paints around. It all looks superficially convincing but that merely shows that the impossibly complex mind will tend to reflect any structure or model you care to impose on it.

The Imaginal Psychology that Daniels advocates, teaches and practices clinically seems to incorporate this perspective; it appears to have grown out of the Jungian approach towards a more sort of ‘multimind’ position or polycentric view of the self(s). That all sounds like good Chaoism to me.

I got two thirds of the way through the second volume to find that the last third of it consisted of a vast glossary. Despite that I’d found it hard going I had a feeling of aw, shucks, its finished, just as I’d felt myself(s) getting engrossed in the process of argument and agreement with it. However even the glossary, (itself larger than some books of mine), provided a great deal to chew on.

Pete Carroll. 


Dear Pete,
Thank you so much for your flattering and thorough November 18th, 2011 review of Imaginal Reality, Volume One: Journey to the Voids and Imaginal Reality, Volume Two: Voidcraft! As you and I have playfully noted, our writing styles are indeed divergent.
I wanted to take this opportunity to address only one point from your review. You opine that I advocate that, "We also need to experience the moment of the here and now, (presumably, temporarily without the encumbrance of the mighty analytical intellect or the second-hand meaning structures that our commercialised cultures offer)."  
I strongly suspect that a moment thus unencumbered may well be astoundingly numinous and transformative. I also think that such freedom, when not adequately prepared for or properly cultivated, can also yield a certain naïve indiscretion and beget a growth-inhibiting ignorance. Regardless, I believe that, whether weighed down by hyper-intellectual detritus or perverted by commercial inveiglements, these moments are the moment. That is, the 'here and now' is quite frequently unpleasant, inauthentic, and rather other than we might wish. Yet, even in that wishing for change, it is still the moment at hand. I believe that only in acknowledging the moment-as-it-is will we ever be able to make any sort of meaningful changes.
I struggled with how best to make this point in the work; and I think I rather fell short in this particular effort.  What I have too-often witnessed in people of all stripes is the stymieing segregation of our lives into a deadly false dichotomy of banal ("real") versus vital ("fantasy"). Building on this dyad, we then create a fantasy of those unencumbered moments of which you speak, thus refusing to encounter our day-to-day here-and-now-ness in its fullness.
Setting aside all this, I think your review most inspired in me a powerful desire to engage in those 'Late Night Philosophy Rant[s] with a Friend' of which you speak. As I have noted frequently, I wrote these volumes to spark the sort of conversations I want to have. Your generous review gives me some hope that I have succeeded to some degree in that effort.
Thank you!
Aaron B. Daniels, PhD
Associate Professor, Clinical Psychology
New England College
Henniker, NH
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