Doctor Strange - Legendary Sorcerer Supreme
I haven’t been posting very many articles as of late due to the demands and busyness of my mundane work schedule. So, during this holiday interlude, I have decided to write up a series of short articles that represent what has been on my mind lately. Hopefully, I can fill the void in my blog with several new articles in the coming days. That is my object, so hopefully I can meet it to some degree.
According to political pundits we have entered the post fact age, which means that any opinion, belief or thought, no matter how foolish or unschooled, is to be considered valid, even when proven to be false. Certainly this has driven the political winds in our country since the election and its poisonous impact on the body politic, but when it comes to discussing magic and the occult, I am hoping that the post fact age doesn’t intrude on the dialogs of those who are actual practitioners. Besides, in the history of magic and even today, we have always been struggling against what the popular imagination believes is magic and what practitioners know from experience.
The recent popularity of Harry Potter, the SciFi channel’s series “The Magicians” and the recent Marvel movie “Dr. Strange” hasn’t helped to keep the topic of magic in the popular imagination closer to the practical reality. Magicians in the media are either shown to be incredible miracle workers who are able to harness astonishing powers or they are fraudulent purveyors of deception and illusion. I am certain that the continual media trope of the magician wielding supernatural forces is quite an annoyance to the scientific community at large who believe that such fantasies should have been long discarded by rational and critical thinking adults. Of course, these are the same people who would also like to see religion discarded as well.
Real magicians, witches and occultists who are practicing magic hardly need the untutored public to promote and embrace such beliefs about magic, and often a new student of magic has to learn where reality starts and fantasy ends. What often draws individuals and groups into a study of magic is the promotion of amazing capabilities and astonishing possibilities. Of course, the reality is subtle, deep, and completely undramatic. The Hollywood produced special effects never match the actual experiences and phenomena of magic, and perhaps this acts as a filter to deflect those who are deluded and refuse to see the world in a critical, logical and rational manner. While it is true that the imagination is a very important component of any magical practice, and that romantic notions are the drivers of magical processes, it is important for any magician worth his or her salt to maintain a balance between the worlds of fact and fantasy. The real issue that one realizes after practicing magic for a while is that the legends about magic and the actual practice of magic are always quite distinct.
Legendary magic has always been a part of the literary and narrative elements of human culture. Whether that magic so described is the technology of the future, belonging to advanced alien races, or that it is steeped in a supernatural domain of spirits and deities is actually immaterial. These are the stories, folk tales and fictional heritage of our culture and our times, and while the qualitative nature of these stories change, the actual themes and underlying structures seem to repeated and revisited over and over. The basis of legendary magic is that it is within the ability of human beings to harness some kind of mechanism that allows individuals to employ seemingly miraculous powers. In the previous age, a person would acquire these powers through the agency and coercion of supernatural entities, such as various kinds of spirits - angels, demons, saints, or hero demigods. It was believed then that human beings had no such powers on their own, but needed the assistance of supernatural entities in order to achieve material transformations of a supernatural type. Later on, in the 19th century, a new theme was developed that proposed that ordinary human beings had previously unknown powers vested in them that could be tapped with a special kind of knowledge or training. Either of these approaches to legendary magic saw that phenomenon as the ability to miraculously manipulate and transform matter at will, or to completely defy all natural laws.
Legendary magic basically broke all of the boundaries that human kind had been struggling against since the beginning of human awareness and consciousness. This kind of magic gave one the ability to fly, teleport, create anything material from nothing, to influence the weather, to change peoples beliefs and feelings without them knowing, to project power in the form of fire, thunderbolts, terrible storms, or even cause the sun and the moon to stop or move in reverse. Legendary magic made the wielder into a material personification of God with all of the powers of omniscience, omnipotence and ubiquity. Whether this was due to harnessing spirits or through the discovery of unknown innate powers only represented the time in which such tales were produced. Unknown human powers discovered and unleashed is a more recent trope, while the abrogation of the powers of spirits and deities is the trope of previous ages. Either narrative represents a problem and a challenge to the actual practice of magic, since expectations about the results of such activities are likely to be far too high and unrealistic.
Confusing legendary with real magic is something of a cultural phenomenon these days that would seem to be getting worse as we proceed into a future fraught with challenges and insecurities. Of course, there are certain shiftless hucksters (whose names I won’t mention) who are advertising their magical courses and techniques claiming miraculous powers and guaranteed magical results. What many magicians fail to talk about much is that failures and folly in the pursuit of magical knowledge are just as important as the successes. No one can either guarantee that their magical lore will work flawlessly for everyone or that there is a painless and easy way to be like a living God. In fact, real magic has always had boundaries and limitations since the beginning of time. Those physical and psychological laws didn’t just materialize with the advent of modern science, in fact it was science that observed and incorporated them into a mathematically proven set of theories. When someone proposes that their magic can completely suspend or abrogate the laws of nature, you should see their claims in the light of hyperbole or outright deceit. The old saying still applies to real magic, “If it’s too good to be true, then it obviously isn’t.” Still, the hucksters continue to make their outrageous claims, and gullible people continue to seek them out and get fleeced.
So what is real magic as opposed to legendary magic? Real magic is subtle, undramatic, highly internalized (subjective), and often mysterious in its various manifestations. It can be unpredictable, but when it does work as the magician has planned, the results are more a bending or connecting of probabilities than the manifestation of impossibilities. Amazing things can happen, but they never translate into making the magician a living deity. Fortune, tragedy, folly and wisdom are the products of the human experience, and magic can influence these possibilities into likely probabilities, but there are limitations and boundaries that cannot be crossed except through the artifice of visions, dreams and active fantasy. These, too, have a part to play in magic, but like everything else, they must be kept in balance so that the magician never loses his or her ability to see the world as it is rather than how one imagines it to be. Legendary magic has no place in the actual practice of real magic.
These are the rules of magic that I have learned the hard way, through continual toil, successes and failures, bright moments of ecstatic realization and accomplishment, and also depressing moments of sadness and loss. It would seem that a life dedicated to the practice of magic doesn’t preclude one from experiencing the whole spectrum of life that all other humans experience as well. Trying to change one’s life and material circumstance has inherent limitations and boundaries whether magic is deployed or not. It is human nature to look for an edge or even an easier way to accomplish some goal, but in the scheme of things, magic can only make actual probabilities occur with any reliability. If a miracle has a certain probability to occur, then magic or some other psychological mechanism can perhaps bend reality so that it does occur. It might also be possible for an outright miracle to happen, such as working magic and then winning the PowerBall Lottery, but working or focusing magic on such a possibility is more likely a wasted effort. It would be more prudent and wiser to discover a more likely path, such as a career that you could learn to love, and then work magic to help you successfully access that path.
If magic has limitations on what it can produce in the material world then what is its worth? A combination of magic, personal insight, social connections and a regimen of mundane skills and actions could give a person the appearance of living a charmed life. Even so, every human being is subject to same laws of entropy, which means that they are prone to misfortune as well as fortune, and that institutions, organizations, and also people, age and decline over time. There is no escape from death, even magicians die. The world is constantly changing, and whatever we can do to quickly adapt to those changes will indeed help make our lives more productive and rewarding. These insights are just common sense, but they are often ignored by many people, much to their future folly and misfortune.
Where a magical system that is solely applied to the material world can have limitations, a magic that is focused on knowledge, insight and wisdom has far less limitations. This is the distinction between forms of magic that follow the Thaumaturgical mechanisms and techniques and those that follow the Theurgic processes. Theurgy is the system of magic that seeks ultimately to reveal and employ the higher self in order to achieve union with the One. Realizing the truth about the self, spirit, deity and that which unites them into a singularity, are the various focusing lore associated with Theurgy. While the material situation does have some bearing on this type of magic, it concerns itself with establishing a stable life situation to eliminate distractions for the real work of obtaining full union. Theurgy only obliquely concerns itself with one’s material circumstances with the caveat that the process of spiritual and psychological evolution that it promotes will cause the manifestation of positive affirming life situations. This is particularly true as the theurgist achieves a greater awareness of that ubiquitous union both within and without him or herself.
Thaumaturgy, particularly in its modern definition, is the method through which a magician learns to adapt, cope and to some extent, master his or her material world. Complete mastery is impossible, but temporary mastery can and does occur. That achievement, based on some years of magical experience, becomes the foundation for the next step, which is Theurgy. The basic and expected evolution of magic is where the focus changes from seeking to achieve mastery of the material world to achieving mastery over one’s self-based spiritual conduit through the higher self as deity to the ultimate union of all being. While mastery of the material world is always represented by a continual work in progress, mastery of the self and one's personal illumination is something that can be achieved in a person’s lifetime. It is, as far as I am concerned, the sum and total of the great work, and in this one particular instance, legendary magic and real magic coincide.