Sunday, April 22, 2007

On "practical magic" and bullshit

Art by Aruxet

I talked with Dr. Kennet Granholm about the coming Åbo Akademi congress on Western esoterism some time ago. One theme that I picked up during that talk was the emphasis of “practical magic” in Western esoterism today. I have always found that emphasis both amusing and interesting.

The talk of “practical magic” and related titles of books tell something of our times. I guess magic as such seems probably a rather foggy way to work for desired ends in one’s life for many. More than that, also the very ends of magic seem often rather foggy for many. Classical grimoires probably offer par excellence examples of this kind of “impractical magic”. So, apparently some see that in order to keep magic appealing, updated, and seriously enough considered in today’s world that emphasizes effectiveness more than ever, magic needs to be made clearly more “Earth-bound” and linked with realistic elements of one’s everyday life. Not too bad as such. I certainly think that lots of classical Western “magic” consists of megatons of bullshit. But the emphasis of “practical magic” still smells odd to me. It smells like bullshit as well.

The magic that I present in my soon available book The Left Hand Path is certainly practical, rather well feet on the ground, but I would feel quite amused about simplistically twisting the name of the book into something like “Practical Left Hand Path”. The magic practised on the left hand path is by its very nature practical. But it should be noted that this practicality of the magic I write about is part of a (transcendental) left hand path Initiation, a life-long process of Self-actualization, which also has plenty of “impractical” dimensions in it. Trying to Come into Being as a more sovereign and conscious Being means that an Initiate has in the central focus of one’s magic one’s subjective universe. This could be seen impractical. Results of magic in this dimension of one’s universe can’t directly be measured, although they certainly can be evaluated and experienced by the Initiate herself. Maybe paradoxically, this “impractical” dimension is to a considerably degree processed through “practical” dimensions of one’s life, as the reader of my book will find out. If the magic of an Initiate works, she will gain knowledge, power, and understanding in both subjective and objective universes in individually meaningful ways.

Magic, at its best, is not only practical, but essentially also challenging, enriching, enlightening, inspiring, transforming, and fun. This means that magic includes also a good deal of “impractical” elements. It could even be said that for an Initiate the practise of magic is simply necessary in her pursuits. To emphasize magic as “practical” without other essential adjectives related to the nature of the subject is in my eyes simply bullshitting. To quote professor Harry Frankfurt:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose. (…)

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person's obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled -- whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others -- to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant.

Smart readers noted that I wrote this as a puzzle with certain pieces missing. You are free to offer the missing pieces in comments.


Anonymous Alan Cabal said...

Oh, where to begin? Here in the USSA, the latest best-seller in the New Age (rhymes with "sewage") bookstores is this hideous pile of bullshit titled THE SECRET. Apparently the only reason you don't have everything you want is because you don't understand or properly implement the "Law Of Attraction": Request, Believe, Receive.

I hope some bankrupt lovesick whacko blows the author's brains all over the table at a book signing.

I also wonder why none of the people driven into debt/bankruptcy by Scientology have ever gone postal.

America's Calvinist roots are very much on display in these belief systems: poor people are poor becuase they lack the grace or virtue (WILL, in these times) to be rich. Sick people are sick for the same reason. It's all quite obscene, and cause for a thinking person to more deeply appreciate the easy availability of guns in this country.

7:19 pm  
Anonymous Avalonia said...

About being practical and non-practical...

Practicality and impracticality in esoterian sense can mean many things. Lets say, for the sake of an example, that you wish to get into good shape. That's a very practical goal! :) You can approach this from many angles.

One very impractical way (IMHO) would be to find out a generic book about magic, buy some candles and incence, follow the given ritual and hope for the best. It may be rather suprising but many 101-spells actually suggest that this would be a good "magical approach" to the subject.

One very practical method, sometimes magical as well but sometimes not, would be just to go to the gym. You could easily combine this with visualization or other techniques if you wish to do so, and this could give you psychological as well as "esoteric" boost to your Will to get into a good shape.

But then again, to stir things up little bit more, if you are a person that, for a reason or another enjoys mysticism and theatre, you could combine the two former methods into one working system. So, you would set up a ritual, whose details you do understand (e.g. red in the candle means psysical body, incence of patchouli is connected to bodily things, drinking from the cup means that I _really_ devote myself into this goal etc.) you could use these tools to concentrate and direct yourself via unconsciousness to the right direction. This, together with going to gym, would, on my opinion, be very practical magical way to approach the subject, even though ritual itself would, for the outsider, seem to be very impractical.

Method described here, however, is not necessarily the only working one! :)

So, in my opinion, the line between working and non-working method, and Truth and bullshit, is somethimes rather thin and depends much on how a person views the situation. It has much to do with your subjective view of the world, I guess.


2:49 pm  
Anonymous lesbos said...


12:10 pm  
Anonymous Joan said...

Cabal's critique of 'The Secret' is most interesting. I saw the movie, and found it inspiring, but you've definitely pointed out the bad side of it, blaming 'the victim' if their life turns rough.

Certainly a positive attitude helps, but their view is shortsighted. Experience alone is proof. As I look to the future, I base my confidence in myself upon what success I have already obtained.

But I can't create a magical image, of say, my artwork showing at the Guggenheim, without a lot of practice and work towards that end, and of course the risk that I may only ever be lucky to show at the county fair.

They seem to think all one has to do is 'imagine' and 'believe' and 'magically' all your desires will be fulfilled.

3:11 pm  
Anonymous Ensio Kataja said...

They seem to think all one has to do is 'imagine' and 'believe' and 'magically' all your desires will be fulfilled.

That is the recipe of most of these New Age-books on "magic", which promise quick results without any hard work. It is like in the world of advertisement: delusions are sold as tempting dreams that can be easily made true; just buy our product. Unfortunately it is true that a sucker is born every minute.

7:15 am  
Anonymous alan cabal said...

A fellow named Art Kleps, whose name you should google, once opined that the difference between bullshit and horseshit was that bullshit tended to inspire whereas horseshit tended to persuade.

7:24 am  

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