Friday, July 30, 2010

Opera Ex Operato Indeed!

Jason Miller has written an absolutely brilliant blog article today that I just had to comment on. In fact, I believe that his article has helped me locate and determine an important piece of the puzzle that I have been thinking about and wrestling with for quite some time. I agree with most of what he has said, but have some additional caveats to propose. Basically, what he has said is striking and important. You can find it here.

Jason’s essential premise is that belief and intent are not as important as many would presume, including myself. However, they are still operational quotients in the workings of magick, which is what I assume he is communicating in his article. So, don’t discount the power of your beliefs or your intent in the magickal working, just don’t give them too much weight, either. What is important is the work itself! (That was the “Aha” moment!)

The term Opere Ex Operato is an ecclesiastic term that translates as “it works because of the working”. It arose as a church doctrine as a response to competition between priests claiming to give more effective sacraments than other priests because of their proper view and purity.

Of course the ecclesiastic term was more likely promoted so that the incompetence of some members of the clergy could be overlooked when attending a mass that was below the minimum standard of quality to be considered at all effective. But there is some truth to this statement, and it does answer some questions that I have been puzzling over.

I have been present, witnessed as well as heard of botched magickal operations and liturgical presentations that seemed to work quite well even though the celebrants were completely incompetent and the resultant working was considered terrible. However, that doesn’t mean that any operation however poorly contrived and executed will work regardless simply because it somehow resonates with some magickal or spiritual archetype, being or force. Magick can and does fail. Learning to be knowledgeable, proficient, capable and well practiced in the art of ritual magick is still an important objective for any student. Also, I have found that a more proficient magician will not only produce more elegant and esthetically pleasing ritual workings, but that they will be more likely to produce the desired result. So intent, belief, capability and understanding do play some roles in the ability of a magician to work magick and the product of her magickal workings. If this were not true, then all teachers would not be able to justify teaching others how to work magick, and perhaps even charging for it. (Hmm..)

I even recently believed that by intent alone a poorly contrived and executed ritual would be effective, but that supposition has always left me feeling like something was missing. One could intend to work magick, and then decide to drink a six pack of beer and watch TV. Would that intention count for anything - decidedly not! The world is overwrought with intentions that never amount to anything because they also require that the “intendee” gets off his backside and actually does the work. Belief in what you are doing and intention are also important, since they can be foundational to what you are doing - but the work is critically important, and without it, nothing happens.

However, the nature of the work is subtle, and does not need to conform to established praxis in order for it to be competent and successful. I create (make up) ideas and come up with new ways of doing my ritual magick all of the time, and it works quite effectively. It also works for others as well, so I would suspect that it isn’t necessary to either do something or engage with something that has a long history of being done or being engaged with.

Chaos magicians seem to prove this quite often, using anything that strikes their fancy as a system of magick, and yet, it works. One of my old teachers built an entire magickal and liturgical system out of the Superman comic mythos, and as silly as it was to watch and experience, it still worked. Perhaps we could say that Superman resonates with aspects of the godhead and the hero demigod (perhaps like Hercules or Samson, except with even greater godlike powers), but the silly quotient in what was being done had to be overcome as well. Culture is replete with all sorts of stuff that could be incorporated into one’s magick, even things that would be absurd (such as having pop icons as gods and goddesses), and yet the magick would probably still work.

Another thing that has to be understood about magick is that it is decidedly “wiggly.” That means that it doesn’t conform to logical structures and often seems to have a mind and will of its own. To make rules and suppositions about magick usually invokes the wiggly nature of magick. Therein lies the crux of being found out in some embarrassing manner that one’s rules are decidedly too rigid to actually encapsulate the whole mystery of what magick is and how it works. So we can all sit in our comfy arm chairs and discuss the nature of magick, while it’s running loose and fomenting all kinds of mischief behind our backs.

Also, one needs to qualify what is meant by belief and intent, since there could be weak and strong versions of these qualities. The weak versions would represent our whims and superficial expectations and desires (often quite changeable), and the strong versions would represent our greater expectations at a deep level of our being, and our true intent devoid of self deception and delusion. Deciding to work magick always runs into the powerfully paralyzing qualities of inertia, sloth and indecisiveness. These are forces in the personality that can and will nullify any kind of plan or operation, and they have to be dealt with through personal discipline and an act of willpower.

Thinking outside of box and accepting challenges that are not part of one’s usual equation are the elements that evolve and help us to grow. Without them, there is stagnation and ultimately, devolution. Jason is dead right about that issue! We need to be always open to many possibilities and experiment with new things and concepts, even things that might appear to go against our superficial desires and wants. Inertia and sloth, disguised as comfort and always working in the box will not help us grow and become strong, It will in fact ensure that we remain within the boundaries of the box and never succeed in achieving much of anything in life. Pushing the envelope and learning to master the self is critical to all spiritual pursuits and paths, especially in the practice of magick, where more often than not, we have no one to either guide, direct or bash us across the side of the head from time to time. Magick is definitely not something that is comfortable and predictable - so get out there and push the envelope, make something happen and by all means, do something that you have never done before.

So, a tip of the hat and “kudos” to Jason Miller for his insightful and interesting blog article. I have to admit, you made my day!

Frater Barrabbas

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