July 13, 2013 TOLS

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Magick, as Alan Moore has observed, is far more an art than a science. Vast amounts of bandwidth – and formerly, acres of forest used for woodpulp – have been wasted on arguing how exact the occult arts are, or can be, and whether magick is a proper pursuit for grown-ups.

My former teacher insisted that sidereal astrology could be considered a science, and he was often very accurate in his use of it. Sometimes, he slipped up, especially when he once predicted a bad year for himself that was clearly a joyous and productive one. I came to realise that it was a very useful tool for him to focus a combination of his intelligence and intuition, but I never met anyone to whom he had passed on the ability to use it with more than erratically precise results. His technique was too intimately personal.

Similarly, I’ve yet to find a method of divination that is consistently correct. Frequently so, yes. I’ve done some really fine Tarot readings in my time, and a few I Ching oracles have been not just close, but bang-on in their predictions.

Likewise gematria, the calculation of the numerical value of words using established systems of attributing values to letters. Most such calculations yield ambiguous results or none, but occasionally something that has a particular intensity or sense of relevance turns out to be equivalent in value to one of three or four numbers that have been around me for ages. “It’s an 88!” I scribble in my diary, exultant that everything has aligned for once. But a week later, I’m calculating totals that might as well derive from the number plates of my neighbours’ cars. And reviewing such results afterwards doesn’t offer anything more reassuring, such as a pattern emerging around a new number.

We could argue around all this in several ways. I’m wary of professional astrologers and psychics, because they have a vested interest in convincing themselves their conclusions are valid and accurate. The same applies to true believers from various magickal traditions. These people don’t necessarily follow self-critical procedures when their clients express disappointment in the life-events that actually manifest, or when their private prophecies turn out to be wildly optimistic (or pessimistic).

We could adopt a hard-line skepticism, and refuse to believe anything that isn’t 85 percent correct. Or dismiss the entire field as bogus. Yet the fact remains that when an esoteric practitioner feels “on his contacts,” to borrow a phrase from Dion Fortune, then these areas of human activity do show interesting intersections of the symbolic and the material. At these times, we’re able to open the inner gates without letting all the monkeys in the mental zoo dash out of them. Coincidence becomes meaningful, and the sheer poetry (or music, or brightness…) of the stream of ideas that flows to us justifies itself. The very nature of the experience defies critical assessment, yet it verifies its significance subsequently by its productivity in our lives. It allows us to see and feel what was previously veiled behind confusion or self-doubt, and it produces a reassuring counterbalance to our conscious attitudes with all their defences.

Perhaps there are Adepts who have gone beyond this, and find everything that flows through their lives fits into an integral scheme. Indeed, this would be the presumed state of mind of a Master of the Temple. But since I always tip toward the skeptical pan of the scales, I doubt there are many individuals who can go this far.

The key here seems to in psychological flexibility, the “lightening the girders of the soul” referred to in Chapter II of The Book of the Law (v. 61). The occultist accepts that there are days when nothing seems at all special, and there are days when the synchronies pile up, the old friend thought about over breakfast is there on the street at lunchtime, and the invocation done in the night just seems to flow effortlessly into an opening of great peace or beauty.

The danger then, oddly, is that we come to expect the wondrous, and its absence tosses us back into self-doubt or self-recrimination for our investment in “over-elaborated silliness” (or some similar expression).

As magicians, we set out to live between ecstasy and reason, poetry and prose. The perfect balance of careful skepticism and an embrace of the exceptional may be impossible; but living with a foot in each world is our self-selected creed.

We need to be wary of anyone’s claims, including our own. And we need to remain open to the idea that the wonderful will intersect with the mundane when it’s time.

Love is the law, love under will.

Edward Mason

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