Friday, February 24, 2012

Is Magick Scientific?

Now that we have fully presented the methods of rational and critical thinking, it’s time to give the devil his due and talk about the other side of this argument. While it’s vitally important for the average person to have his or her wits about them in order to function in the modern world, it’s also important to have an open mind and a knack for creativity. These skills might seem to be mutually exclusive, but they are actually the full tool set for the practicing ritual magician. The reason why the ritual magician has to straddle both the rational and irrational worlds of reality is because of the nature of the phenomena of magick itself.

Magick is, in my opinion, a rather irrational phenomenon. It doesn’t appear to adhere very well to  logic, rules, models or other restricting presumptions. These various rules and methodologies can be proposed, but there always seem to be other associated phenomena that would ordinarily falsify those same assertions. In order to force magick into a certain regimen, we have to ignore any conflicting or contrary data, and I believe that by doing so, we ignore some important attributes associated with magick. So it would seem that maintaining an absolute rationalist stance when engaging in magickal practices is likely to be too extreme.

A happy balance is found between sloppily functioning within a Cargo Cult mentality and insisting that everything experienced conforms to one’s rational dictates, and can thereby be empirically proven. This delicate balance between complete credulity and stubborn skepticism is a requirement for anyone who wishes to practice magick without going off the deep end, or for that matter, never getting anywhere. I have brought up this discussion previously and posted it some time ago on this blog, where I proposed that magick doesn’t really have any rules other than what we assume it has. You can find that article here.

To the emphasis on rationality, logic, critical thinking and even practical common sense must be added a few other important elements, such as divergent thinking, creativity, tolerating ambiguity, being open to the miraculous and accepting that magick and science are very different mental operations. Attempting to make magick conform to an exclusive scientific perspective is likely to ultimately deny that magick is even possible. Some may have problems with a definition of magick that is overly reliant on objectivity and empirical causality or one that seems to be steeped in metaphor and relies too much on ambiguous definitions of consciousness. As expected, magickal practitioners seem to inhabit both spectrums, and everywhere in between.

All of this brings us to the primary question, “Is magick scientific?” The answer to this question proposes some fundamental definitions about the nature of the occurrence of magick, and whether it can be empirically defined as a natural phenomenon or proved to exist at all. As a practicing magician, it quickly becomes a situation where my experience has to be accounted for by my ability to reason and understand. Also, my failure to be open to possibilities and the constant need to rationally explain everything has the effect of restricting or dampening magickal phenomena. To be a magickal practitioner, I have had to let my feelings and subjective observations occur without any kind of bias or blockage, and that is quite difficult in this day and age.

Now that we have gotten to this point in our considerations, I may call upon one of the more peculiar authors in the annals of magick for some kind of corroboration. I am, of course, referring to the godfather of chaos magick himself, Ramsey Dukes (a.k.a. Lionel Snell). A while back, my friend Jack Faust had recommended that I check out the writings of Ramsey Dukes, particularly his entitled work “S.S.O.T.B.M.E.” (Sexual Secrets of the Black Magicians Exposed). It would seem that Ramsey Dukes can offer me some support for my own rather unorthodox opinion of the nature of magick, or so it would seem.

Ramsey Dukes is not the kind of author who will stand on any single position for long. He offers his various opinions and perspectives on magick with a bit of tongue in cheek, and at times demolishes his own theories to ensure that they don’t become too powerful. In a word, Ramsey Dukes is something of an intellectual weasel, but a humorous rather than an annoying one. After reading the more recently revised essay on magick, I found in him at least an ally who also believes that magick is quite “wiggly.” 

Of course, the very first thing that can be said about the book “Sexual Secrets of the Black Magician’s Exposed” is that the contents of the book has nothing to do with the title. It’s just another of Ramsey Duke’s inside jokes. All of his book titles are patently ridiculous and have nothing to do with their content. Ramsey also has the strange habit of referring to his other pen names as if they were distinctly other people, such as quoting the work of Lemuel Johnstone (another pen name) in a critical light, as if it were someone that he once knew well. Those who are not acquainted with Lionel Snell and his various pseudonyms would obviously not get any of his subtle humor. I also get the feeling that Mr. Dukes likes to make elaborate gags to amuse himself, which I suppose are even more humorous to him if the reader doesn’t get it. Cleverness for the sake of cleverness can get a bit boring, but overall, Mr. Dukes does make some important points, which I felt would be useful in my discussion about magick.

Ramsey Dukes never really answers the question as to whether science can prove the existence of magick. However, his book implies that the entire question is not particularly relevant. He begins his essay with a model where the social world of humanity is divided into four vectors, and these are Religion, Science, Magic and Art. These four vectors are bordered by the longitudinal and latitudinal vectors of Intuition (for Art and Religion), Thinking (for Religion and Science), Sensation (for Science and Magic) and Feeling (for Magic and Art). So where Science is a combination of Thinking and Sensation, Magic is a combination of Sensation and Feeling, where sensation is defined as a form of observation. These vectors are to be seen more as directional dimensions than spacial domains.

Based on Mr. Duke’s model, it would appear that Magick and Science represent two contrary perspectives of the world. The contrast between the two become quite obvious when we see that the one point which they have in common, observation, is dealt with in completely opposing manners. 

Science relies on logical and rational forms of thought to produce an objective analysis of any phenomena. Truth is paramount to science, and so is the elimination of unpredictability through the necessity of repeatable and verifiable processes. Science is also concerned with establishing causal connections so as to determine the cause and effect of any physical event. To the scientific perspective, magick can only exist in the world of un-truth, and therefore functions in much the same way as the Devil does in some religions. And like religion, science, at times, can be quite dogmatic. Science is the dominant mental perspective that rules the Western world, brainwashing everyone into being rational thinkers even if they are romantic and overly impressionable feeling types, such as myself.

Magick is completely the opposite of science! It relies wholly on feelings and subjective experiences. Truth is considered relative, and can be bent or ignored altogether through the operation of the “as if” power of analogy. In the world of magick, there are no absolute truths. Causal connectivity is assumed to be total, and every possibility exists in some manner, although not necessarily physically.

Perhaps one of the most profound magickal experiences that I have had is the extreme sensation that everything is connected together, and that behind reality is a single Spirit where everything dissolves into union. So magickal theories must fit the experience of the one who experiences them, and because of this, there can be many different, perhaps even opposing, models and perspectives amongst the various practitioners.

Magick is the producer of miracles and the maker of astonishing fortune (Black Swan events), yet due to the power of science, those miracles are infrequent and muted. We have been unwittingly taught not to see or expect miracles, and so they happen but rarely. In fact, our scientifically dominated world has fostered many defense mechanisms against any possibility of either miracles or evidence of the supernatural. According to Mr. Dukes, if you experience a miracle, however minor, it’s important to be secretive about it, because there is an inherent censoring mechanism operating in our society that seeks to eliminate the miraculous. A reported miracle quickly becomes rationalized out of existence, and then its much harder to produce the same magickal results at another time.

As Ramsey Dukes so eloquently puts it: “A miracle is only a total disaster to a rational thinker. If by nature you are a ‘feeler’ rather than a thinker, you can happily survive a few inconsistencies.”

However, the evidential occurrence of a real shocking miracle whose only source could be classified as supernatural would likely cause a worldwide collapse of rational thinking, unless, of course, it was steadfastly and passionately denied. Such a catastrophe must be avoided at all costs, thus we are taught to live in a rational world and to expect the ordinary, rather than the exceptional or the unrestrained remarkable. While some may hope for a day when magick can be completely understood, classified  and codified in a laboratory setting, I for one am hoping for just the opposite - a breach in the world order. Perhaps when the hermetically sealed container of the rational and logical rule of science is cracked, some truly amazing things might be witnessed and experienced. In my opinion, it would be as if a black and white world was suddenly and strikingly invaded with vibrant and living colors, banishing forever the dull word of various shades of grey. 

Ramsey Dukes also discusses his interesting theory (disguised as the theories of Lumuel Johnstone) that the world is actually a cleverly made virtual reality, where the granular elements of the real world are nothing more than bits of information. According to him, the universe has its origin in information, which surreptitiously exists as the very foundation of everything, whether physical or mental. This is obviously, the informational model of magick. Another important point in his book is that in science, theories are imperfect, but the scientist performing experiments is considered perfect, almost as an iconic or archetypal persona. A poorly performed experiment is shrugged off, and only a perfect representation of an experiment becomes the proof or refutation of a given theory, and then only when it is repeated sufficiently by other perfect scientists. No one questions that the scientist performing the experiment may be actually determining the results, at least not until quantum mechanics and Schrodinger’s Cat. Even so, such perspectives have hardly touched disciplines like elementary physical chemistry.

In magick, the theory (or rather formula) is considered perfect, and the operator, imperfect. If the magick fails to produce the results, it doesn’t in anyway indicate that the theory is incorrect. Rather, it is an indication that the fault lies exclusively with the magician performing the rite. This is because, according to Mr. Dukes, magickal theories are simple, abstract and universal. They need to be this way, because it is the tendency for elaborate theories about magick to accumulate evidence, no matter how absurd, until they become the veritable key to the universe itself, and only then, collapse because of their own weight.

This is why Ramsey Dukes is against stating any objective theory about magick and giving it too much weight. He would rather articulate a more general and traditional formula (such as the Four Elements), and work that to the benefit of all magick. I have found his caution interesting and intriguing, since it dovetails with some of my own experiences about using and making magickal models. However, in regards to the imperfect individual magickal operator, the whole of a magickal regimen is to incrementally improve and advance him or her, ultimately culminating in total and complete enlightenment. That, by itself, is the fuel that makes the practice magick so compelling and irresistible.

One very interesting point is that my whole approach to producing new magickal lore is one where I incorporate divergent and convergent thinking processes. In order to determine the ritual structure, discover the relevant occult elements and derive the overall theme of the ritual working, I will draw pictures, schematics, produce various lists, and pretty much fill up a few pages of paper with notes, pictures and other scribbling. I then take some of these notes and do some background research on them, and finally, pull all of the pieces back together again into a completed work. 

While I am in the divergent phase, any conceivable connection or idea is explored, no matter how tenuous or odd. My background research then adds a deeper layer to this mixture of discursive ideas. It only manages to cause a greater confusing mixture of ideas, but it can foster new and unusual linkages. Then afterwards, when this stream of consciousness has seen its end, I will select and carefully assemble the appropriate pieces into the skeleton ritual structure, thus filling it out. This is where I use convergent thought to bring the pieces into union. The end result usually has many levels and typically produces a very unique approach to any given methodology. I used this same technique when I devised a new version of the talismanic Portae Lucis, and the end results seems to be quite compelling.

As you can see, I use a very creative approach in developing and building up my ritual lore. Yet the methodology I use is very much a part of the magickal process, according to Ramsey Dukes. It is a dynamic and creative procedure, and the technique of creating new lore is a magickal ritual in and of itself. Nothing is sacred and nothing is dogmatically adhered to. Everything is subject to questioning and even revision. All materials are available for the use of the magician to perform magick. I guess you could say that this would make me into a kind of chaos magician.

Nothing is true!
Everything is permitted.”

This brings me finally to my opinion that magick is unpredictable, unbounded, and incapable of adhering to any model. Magick is wild, wooly, crazy, untamed, fringe, weird, strange and deliriously ecstatic. Magick is decidedly wiggly, so wiggly that it will placidly seem to behave itself, all the while enjoying a vicious joke on the magician who is spinning theories or playing too seriously with models. A some point there will be a spike of completely unexpected data, an experience that doesn’t fit any model whatsoever, and perhaps behind it all, there is the laughter of the insane beingness of magick, who has played yet another trick on a presumptions human operator. 

That being of magick is like the great shaggy twisted eared Puka, who is vilely deceptive and unconstrained, even to those who are its supposed allies. I call it Uncle Wiggly, and I am sure that some are sick to death at the crazy things that I have penned about this being. Others delight in it, since what is wild and undefined is likely capable of producing any kind of miracle or supernatural occurrence. So I part with this final quotation from my previous article, stating the Uncle Wiggly Law of Magick.

The Uncle Wiggly Law of Magick

“Whatever laws, models or theories that you propose about magick, there will always be something that will occur while working magick at some point to not only falsify that law, but will show itself to have a very nasty sense of humor, the least of which will be irony or satire, the worst of which may even take your life. Never assume that you have all of the answers or have all of the contingencies of magick covered, because shit happens!”

Frater Barrabbas


  1. As you know, as a scientific illuminist myself ("the method of science, the aim of religion") I disagree with the contention that science and magick should be thought of as opposites. I would agree, though, that since we can say with some confidence that whatever rules or principles govern magical operations are statistical rather than deterministic much of what you say here is correct. Shit is always going to happen, but that doesn't mean you can't come up with general principles that hold over time. Psychology has been dealing with similar phenomena for more than a century from a scientific perspective. The big hole in terms of objective data that is missing in both psychology and magick is a way to measure consciousness, since in magick and some areas of psychology the operator is always part of the experiment.

    Here's a related question - do you see any connection between magick and parapsychology? If you don't, that right there might explain the differences in our perspectives because I do and always have. Back when I was in college looking over the works of J.B Rhine and others a number of experimental psychologists came out and said that Rhine had provided more than enough experimental data to demonstrate the existence of just about anything, but that they just couldn't accept it because it was in regard to psychic phenomena. As a magician, I'm not nearly so closed-minded.

  2. @Ananael Qaa - According to Martin Gardner, one of many critics of Rhine's work "Rhine's results have never been duplicated. This includes the claim that Rhine repeatedly tried to replicate his work, but produced only failures that he never reported."

    The problem is that many other scientists have dismissed Rhine's work as spurious or suspect. And this is very much the point that I made in my article - science must debunk anything that is irrational. As for psychology, there is a branch of research psychology that has been accepted by the hard sciences, and that is Behavioral Psychology. I myself don't find much in that branch of psychology that is relevant to my magickal work, but others might not agree with me.

    As for whether I see a connection between magick and scientific parapsychology, I think that a scientific proof of magick, psychism, or even that consciousness exists is irrelevant. Whether science proves that magick works or not doesn't seem to invalidate magick for myself. If I make rules or establish boundaries, someone or something comes along and shows them to be incomplete and therefore, invalid. That's why I think that magick often functions more like an entity rather than a physical phenomenon.

    I would recommend that you read Ramsey Dukes' book "SSOTBME" - you might come away with a slightly different opinion. Supposedly, Ramsey Dukes started out from a strict science background and from that point, got involved in magick.

    Thanks for your comments.


  3. I'm aware that Rhine isn't the best example in terms of his results, but I included it because it's the best documented case I know of that shows the academic bias against that sort of work. You can find much of the same if you look into academic studies of esotericism, which for years were relegated to second-class status in the fields of history and philosophy. There is what I consider to be some good work going on in the field of parapsychology today, such as ganzfeld and quantum diode research. Skeptics do a lot of hand-waving at those, but so far I haven't seen anything all that convincing.

    I do hope that I haven't given you the impression, either now or at any point over the years, that I base my assessment of magick as a whole upon some sort of scientific proof. That is most emphatically not the case. Obviously the subjective side of magick can't be evaluated in this way, and from that perspective alone I've found my magical work extremely fulfilling. To my way of thinking a (fairly) reliable scientific model would only add to its appeal.

    Is it Dukes' contention that magick and science are opposites, or is that your own interpretation of his work? I ask because I recognize the diagram you included as based on Jung's functions of the ego (Thinking/Feeling and Sensation/Intuition). According to Jung these functions are not opposites, but rather complementary. The latter is how I would describe my approach to magick as well - integrating the rational and the irrational into what (I hope) constitutes a coherent whole, or at least will someday.

  4. @Annael Qaa - Actually, I don't have the impression that you think magick is somehow reducible to science, but others do have that opinion. (See the Yahoo group for the ESSG). Also, magick and science are not completely opposites, since they both rely on observation - it's just what they do with that observation is where they function as opposites.

    Magick is complimentary with science (and likes to use science in unscientific ways), but I don't think that scientists feel that way about magick. Supposedly Art and Science are opposites, and Religion and Magick. However, these positions are to be taken as more like compass points rather than domains, at least according to Dukes. So saying that they are polar opposites probably would violate exactly what Dukes is saying in his book.

    I would order his book, read it, and then we can have an interesting conversation. Ramsey Dukes is an easy read, and he is quite funny in a dry English sort of way.

    Regards -


  5. “S.S.O.T.B.M.E.” ... First book I read related to Chaos Magic and the illustrations from A.O. Spare are wonderful. I love this book.

    Great post. No comment at the moment, however. Brain fry is my excuse and I'm sticking with it. :)