To believe in the efficacy of magic and to practice it is also to be accused of possessing or believing in a fantasy world that doesn’t bear the scrutiny of science or logic. However, as someone who believes and practices ritual magic, and who has done this for decades, I find that such a simplistic approach does not take into account that human nature has an emotional and romantic dimension to it that cannot be dispelled by logic or empirical science. While the concepts of spirits, deities, energies and paranormal qualities can be shown to be attributes of the conscious mind itself, and its cultural collective, occult practitioners have typically had to deal with the cognitive dissonance of living in the post modern world and practicing rites that would be better understood from the perspective of the middle ages or the early renaissance. Still, these are all phenomena that are a part of the emotional, irrational and artistic, creative mind-set, neither invalid nor subject to scientific testing.
What this means is that a practitioner of ritual magic can live in the post modern world and also work with deities, spirits, energies and seemingly paranormal perceptions without dooming their ability to objectively deal with the world and function in a rational and logical manner. Practitioners of magic do not reject the world of science, logic and academia as some might think. Instead they extend their world-view, beliefs and perceptions to include other possibilities and perceptions based on their experiences, realizing that magic and its various attributes are part of the phenomenon of individual and collective consciousness. In other words, the world-view of science and the rational liberal arts are the foundation to understanding and practicing the arts of magic and the philosophy of occultism. Beliefs are tested by experience and by peer review so that they might retain a high degree of sane rationality. When this balance between belief, experience and factual knowledge break down then all sorts of crazy ideas, conspiracies and forms of outlandish self-glorification can and do occur. It starts one down a slippery slope that can lead to a form of complete social dislocation and even temporary madness.
We engage with our ritual magical practices with our feet firmly planted in the world of occult philosophy, science and the liberal arts, taking a rational and balanced pathway that is guided by a certain degree of skepticism, objectivity and input from our peers. Using this approach, we keep ourselves from acquiring a world view that is wholly divorced from facts, logic and rational thinking. This is not say that I am promoting an approach to magic that excludes imagination, creativity, artistry, vision and emotional aspiration, in fact these are critical components for practicing ritual magic. What I am promoting is a healthy balance between occultism and its practices and an objective world-view based on facts. So we can practice what Dion Fortune referred to so many decades ago as “Sane Occultism.”
This brings me to the point of my article. I am presently observing my nation torn apart by divisive and delusional beliefs and opinions that have absolutely no basis in facts. Of course, even the media inspired perception of a social division in our country is likely a form of sensational hyperbole, but it is occurring within a group of people on the far right of the political spectrum, leaving those of us in the center and the left scratching our heads and trying to understand what is happening to some people. I had thought that my beliefs and practices would be subject to derision and disdain, but actually, I seem to be very rational and sane compared to these folks even if I practice magic and talk to spirits and deities. One would think that I was the odd-ball individual promoting and practicing a system of dubious and nefarious behaviors. Yet compared to these folks, I am the paragon of sanity and rationality.
In our troubled times, facts are no longer seen as the foundation of knowledge. What appears to be important these day are emotionally driven opinions that do not require any kind of rational analysis or scrutiny. Logic and critical thinking are given up for emotionally satisfying platitudes, politically toxic propaganda and view-points based on a fantasy world-view. This disease of the mind is affecting a small percentage of our nation’s population, but they are driven and given currency but media companies that seem to be only interested in making money and not reporting the news in a factual manner.
I am, of course, referring to Fox News, but they are just one of many right-wing media organizations that are spewing a form of poisonous propaganda that is endangering our democratic institutions. The conservative political mind sees the slowly changing demographic of our nation, where white Christian Protestants are becoming a minority in a very racially and culturally diverse country, as a kind of existential threat. The only solution in such minds is to suppress the rights and civic privileges of those who are not of the white race in favor of those who are, and thereby establish a kind of racial and religious apartheid backed up by a political authoritarian regime that would replace our democratic republic.
I can tell you right now that in such a regime people like me would not only lose our rights, but also our freedoms. I would be part of the unruly crowd that would find itself in concentration or reeducation camps, if not outright exterminated. I might be a white northern European man, but I am certainly not the right kind of white person because I am not at all Christian. I would imagine in such a nightmarish world that many others of my fellow Witches, Pagans and various other occultists would find ourselves zealously persecuted. We would be joined in our imprisonment by blacks, non-white Hispanics, Jews and people of color. Since I have written articles and published books, I would be one of those targeted and unable to hide in the anonymous crowd of white faces.
Of course, this kind of extreme outcome is not very likely to happen, since the majority of Americans have a tendency to rebuke authority and to be largely contrarian and nearly ungovernable as a people. I doubt that if obvious and threatening moves were made to deconstruct our democracy and to install a religious and racial based tyranny that the majority of the people of my country would not take that change without a very forceful backlash and inspired moral outrage. Such a perceived civil war would be over quickly if it even had the chance to start. What we are seeing today is the balance tilted to the far right, and our social and political world is due for a swing to the political left that is coming soon. That is, certainly, my fervent hope.
The phenomena that we are witnessing is the gullibility, foolishness and cognitively biased perceptions of a small percentage of our population who are misled and misinformed by money grubbing media companies and cynically calculating politicians. As this process continues to spiral to ever greater confabulations there is a corresponding increased incidence of deadly violence perpetrated by right-wing gun toting fanatics and their fellow paramilitary cultists. What was once fringe racism and bigotry is now become the main-stream through the efforts of conservative pundits, soulless and power-hungry politicians and certain oligarchs who wish to transform our nation into a society of servants and a wealthy master class. None of that will likely happen, but in the process there will be people killed, insurrections and civil disorder. I believe that it ultimately will give birth to a more just, diverse and tolerant society since many of these intolerant conservative activists are members of the older generations. Those who believe and actively support racism and bigotry are on the wrong side of history, and that they, too, will be diminished and disappear over time.
So what does this have to do with the practice of magic? I have outlined a phenomenon that is happening now. It is a terrible object lesson of what happens to individuals and groups when critical thinking is rejected over emotional-cognitive bias and paranoid delusions. We are meant to be challenged at all levels, and we should try to meet those challenges with as high a degree of objectivity, alacrity, critical thinking and even some helpful peer review. If right-wing nut-cases got to talk to their relatives and community members who did not share their beliefs, and actually listened to them, noting that there are differences of opinion without a deviation from objective facts then they would probably have to loosen their rigid perspectives and realize that they are surrounded by people with a diversity of beliefs, but who share a common humanity. It is my hope that such a reconciliation does finally occur, but at times it seems like a forlorn one.
As ritual magicians and occultists, we must always walk a balanced pathway so we do not succumb to fantastical beliefs that have no basis in facts whatsoever. We see the various news outlets pushing right-wing fever dreams and we can observe what happens when people start believing in outright lies and propaganda over facts based on our shared social reality. This is something that we need to passionately avoid so as to embrace the unifying quality of empathy and compassion in all that we do. We are, after all, human beings, but that does not mean that we need to dispose of our common sense in order to obtain the temporary security of the mind-set of a cult.