Friday, November 2, 2018

Necessity of Compassion and Empathy in Magic


Typically, magic is about getting something by using oblique or probability bending methodologies. This is particularly true when the object or target of one’s magic is something that is material. Magic has most often concerned itself with achieving some objective or getting something that would be otherwise unobtainable. It could be something that is highly improbable or even impossible, or something that might be obtainable if one’s fortunes were to be weighted slightly in one’s favor. Doing magic for unobtainable or improbable achievements seeks to create what is known as a “black swan event,” where the objective that seems nearly impossible happens in an almost miraculous manner. Since this kind of magic will more often meet with failure than success, what is more commonly sought after is something that is likely to occur.

Magic seeks, therefore, to make something happen, usually for personal and material profit, so it is a particularly self absorbed activity even when it is practiced for someone else’s gain instead of one’s own. Practicing magic for someone else is either a bought and paid for transaction, or one that is done for various personal reasons. The outcome is the same whether that magic is worked for one’s self or another. The action of this kind of magic engages the self and especially the ego, just as it does when we ambitiously seek to advance our material conditions or the conditions of those who are close to us using mundane actions and tools.

None of this is either new nor surprising since it has been a part of magic since the beginning of human culture. Where it becomes a problem is when it is paired with extreme selfishness and a callous disregard for basic human values. Because of the influences of the Christian church, and that western religious culture has always placed a high regard for charity and compassion, magic seemed to be balanced by the need to care for and help others and to do good to one’s fellow human beings, at least those of the same culture and religious persuasion. (The “other” has always been the subject of extreme prejudice and the target for negative magic, but we will cover that in another article.) Even so-called “black magic” was used to achieve justice and material equality in a world where social and financial power assured one of not only active participation in the decisions and rules effecting everyone, but of a kind of protection and insulation from the masses who lacked that power. Even so, black magic was considered an extreme action unsanctioned by the church and the culture at large, whereas white magic was either condoned or at least tolerated. Not too much has changed over the centuries, except for the influence of the Church and the requirement for some kind of charity and compassion. Perhaps the climax of these values are to be found in Christian democratic socialism that has built the social safety nets of the developed nations of the world, and that are now imperiled by the selfish actions of some groups.

The backlash against this institutionalized socialism is the creation of a class of individuals who have taken these institutions for granted and have promoted a kind of a selfish and self-absorbed lust to acquire all of the benefits that these societies have given to everyone but take on none of the responsibilities or civic duties (paying taxes, engaging in the political process and civic discourse) that make such a social contract workable. I am talking, of course, about ideas such as Libertarianism as espoused by Rand and her followers, and taken up by various fascist and proto-fascist movements disguised as a newly emerging popular ultranationalism in Europe and the U.S.

How these two movements have apparently merged is something of a modern mystery, but it would represent the need to tear down the existing socialistic democracies and replace them with one party authoritarian states. This has been made possible by a kind of potent lack of social compassion and empathy that has become manifest amongst the populations of the developed world, pushed as a newly minted perspective in our social media worlds. It has produced a social callousness and a selfish defense of the status quo, where that status quo is promoting an accelerating material and social inequality. It is a time where groups who have achieved much of what the modern world has produced have sought to keep that achievement to themselves and damn the consequences. I find this mind set oddly flourishing amongst people of my generation (the Boomers) and perhaps also amongst those Xer’s who have made it into the upper echelons of the middle class. The millennial generation seems to be more idealistic and inclusive, and I am grateful for that state and I hope it continues. Where my parents generation fought against the fascists of the west and east, my generation seems to be seeking to embrace this mind-set, even though it runs counter to everything that they have been given and benefitted from in a society and a government that has greatly assisted them in some fashion their entire lives.

I won’t delve into the selfish, arrogant stupidity that seems to motivate people into embracing fascism or proto-fascism out of a delusional fear that change in our world will somehow screw them any more than it already has. The pain of change in the last 30 years has been mostly forced on us through the passage of various conservative policies that have benefited the wealthy elite and damaged the middle class. What will change (hopefully) is that a certain group of people (white, protestant, male) will no longer be able to depend on maintaining their privilege. Instead, it will be society that treats everyone as equals, based, one would assume, on the principles of our cultural institutions and our constitution. That is a just and equitable solution to mitigate a drastically emerging social and material inequality, and help people deal with the profound changes that AI and automation will have on our world, not to mention the drastic changes needed to mitigate climate change.

We truly need in these times a powerful government to meet and resolve these challenges, and that government needs to represent and seek to aid equally all of its citizens, and in addition, the populations of the world. The world needs a strong western developed world to help it deal with its problems as well, since failing to do so will ensure our eventual extinction as a species. There is no place in our nation or the world for the kind of selfishness provided by ultra-nationalistic and totalitarian governments. What we really need is a world government working together with the various nations to deal with global issues.

Opposing any kind of collective or global cooperation is a resurgence of nationalism, which is merely a cover for extreme selfishness and self-preservation of the status quo. This kind of callous “me-first-ism and the hell with everyone else” mind-set has also, to some extent, infected the practice of magic in the west. We live in a culture where compassion for anyone outside of one’s political tribe or clique is practically non-existent. Therefore, magic is practiced as one more mechanism to gain that coveted place of isolated material and social comfort where the disenfranchised masses can be safely ignored. It is a way to fantasize about gaining unearned wealth and power when it is mostly probable that one will achieve what is more likely based on one’s already established station in life. Practical magic is the supposed great material equalizer, or so it is advertised, but it is getting harder to make miracles happen in the material world using magic, and probably a lot more profitable to just cheat and cut corners. While the window of opportunity is closing for most people, it also occurring in a stealthy manner while the masses fight each other for the leftover scraps after the rich and powerful have feasted.

While it is possible to fall from the economic station of one’s birth, it is getting less likely to step far above that same station. Social and material mobility has slowed down, and the number of newly made high-tech millionaires has likely already peaked, particularly if the power-elite are successful in creating a servant class out of the middle class. You can’t exclusively benefit from your own inventions unless you have the economic freedom to be outside of the corporate sponsored sphere of patronage and ownership, or somehow gain a large share of the profits of such endeavors.  I suspect that the current interest in magic might in part be due to the lack of opportunities for social and material mobility. However, magic cannot be expected to make dramatic changes in one’s life station if the possibilities for such expansion are closed.

Yet in this world of cut-throat competition, where the wily find ways to cheat, scheme and manipulate events, and the ethical just get screwed by those who are rapaciously ambitious; it would seem that compassion and empathy are weaknesses that need to be either suppressed or eliminated. Caring for the poor, the disenfranchised, the victim, or the “other” is just not tenable. Having feelings or caring about those who you are not close to is to be defined (by the successful others) as a sucker - a fool who unwittingly desires to be played, used and discarded just like all the rest of the masses out there in the world. Some modern politicians like to make these easily identifiable “others” as the enemy, when they are really just the sad victims of calamity and evil circumstances. Yet that is a distraction to the real screwing that is going on right in front of us every day. Yes - we are being screwed whether we know it or not.

When idiots rant about the racial superiority of the white European world, or the need to preserve “White Christian” values in our culture, that people of color get too many unearned benefits, or refugees who come to our country fleeing horrifying social conditions and threats against their lives are somehow suspected terrorists or undesirables stealing jobs from privileged citizens, they are listened to and commented upon by the media as if they were somehow speaking wisely. They are not called by many of these same media pundits as racists, misogynists, fascists, or religious bigots; but they should be called out as such and rejected by one and all. (Even better, their words shouldn’t be quoted at all.) What this shows is that we no longer seem to feel badly about what is happening to other people who are not directly connected to us - that misplaced “other-ness” that makes them an existential evil. There is a lack of compassion operating in our culture, and an inability to empathize with others who are suffering, particularly if they are part of the population that occupy that inhumane definition of people as the “other.”

What drives this lack of compassion is aversion and the passions of focused hatred that seems to be bottomless and lacking any kind of moral compass or boundaries. Yet impassioned hatred cannot be represented as any kind of strength, superiority or power. It is, in fact, the grossest kind of weakness and pathetic human need for the preservation of one’s own tribe as the expense of everyone and everything else in the world. It is a delusional lust for power driven by fear and ignorance, and these forces in human nature are completely the opposite of anything having to do with real magic, or any kind of spirituality.

When a magician thinks of doing ill in the world by using magic to benefit himself or his tribe at the expense of other people then it weakens and profoundly diminishes whatever good he might believe he is doing. In fact, it weakens magic as a form of occult practice. This rule cuts into the idea of using magic against others for individual or tribal gain, whatever the justification. If you are going to curse your enemies, steal from them or cross them in some manner, even if it is for good reasons, it ends up pushing the overall tone of magic down and creates a spiraling downdraft counter force. A lifetime of negative magic not only weakens and diminishes the individual performing it, but it also has a negative impact on the social domain of magic as a whole. The cartoon-like character of the “black” magician who is completely corrupt, depraved and empty of any human-like qualities or virtues does have an element of truth within it, and it typically leads to a terrible but justifiable self-destruction.

It would seem then that if aversion represents a great weakness in our world, then love could be considered its opposite, thereby being the greatest strength. Instead of being based on aversion, delusion and ignorance it is based on compassion, understanding and clarity of vision. It takes courage to love others, particularly those who are not part of one’s family or tribe. It takes an open mind that is not stained by prejudice to feel empathy for others, and allow one’s self to expand to include everyone and everything in the embrace of knowing and understanding. To follow such a path is difficult and it would seem that the greatest challenge facing any individual or group of humans is to be able to pass the threshold of selfishness, even for a moment, to realize the suffering and pain of others who have no connection to one’s self.

Yet the overall rewards for such a crossing over are great, since it not only ennobles the individual and takes them to a higher plane of being, but it makes the world, at least in a small way, a better place. When love becomes the backbone of magical workings then the magician who practices it becomes evolved in a manner that is empowering and expanding. It leads to a kind of personal and collective ascension, and this would seem to be the goal of all world religions. It reduces the suffering of the world and helps to foster the characteristics that ultimately lead to a form of individual and collective enlightenment, which should be the ultimate goal of magic and the mystical elements of every religion. The key words to love being the core of magic is empathy, acceptance, mindfulness (openness and acceptance), clarity of vision and above all, compassion.    

My message is to say that compassion is a truly great power, and that if we have lost or misplaced that quality then it shows how lacking our culture (or magical practice) has become. I don’t think it is completely lost so much as it is omitted or suppressed as a so-called practical approach to living in our post-modern world. However lost or misplaced in our society at present, when it is omitted in magic, it makes the operations of said magic weak, ego-bound, diminished in scope and lacking in vision. 

Performing magic to project ill into the world, however justified, darkens the world; but projecting good into the world through magic diminishes suffering and lightens the world. How do we determine such a supposedly subjective and relative value such as good or ill in our magic? We determine this by measuring what we do and how we work for ourselves and our clan against the needs of the many and the “other.” Is our magic selfish or selfless; does it promote the greater good or does it promote the individual or the tribe at the expense of everyone else. 

A compassionate magic believes that there is enough material and spiritual wealth in the world to benefit everyone; that we can have our fulfillment and find our place in the world without having to rob others of their fulfillment. An averse magic believes that there are extreme limitations to the world - both materially and spiritually. That one must cheat, steal, plunder and dominate in order to acquire one’s fulfillment in the world and to maintain that dominance at all costs.

Finally, the question that all magicians must ask themselves is whether they believe in a compassionate or an averse kind of magic. Over time, you will know the magician from what he or she becomes as they live in the world day by day, and what kind of magic they believe in and practice.

Frater Barrabbas      

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