Apparently, the occult corners of the internet have recently exploded in controversy. Mostly in corners I don’t frequent, actually, although a few of my favorite bloggers have added their two cents (Jason and RO both link to the broader controversy, and also provide a little bit of context). I avoided the “physical” manifestation of spirits brouhaha on account of I haven’t ever done any conjuration and therefore had nothing to contribute (though I hear that didn’t stop everyone). Besides, it’s an old controversy among those who enjoy talking about the theory of magic as much as they enjoy actually doing it. To my warped mind that gives me leave to comment on the matter of “it’s all in your head”.
Interestingly, it’s a subject that’s been on my mind. I have, after all, just finished Lon Milo Duquette’s latest book, in which he advocates the vary theory under debate (which apparently I haven’t gotten around to reviewing; I’ll have to fix that as soon as Sannafrid gives it back). The general direction of my thoughts on this matter can be inferred from an old post of mine. At the time I was speaking of the particular tendency of some Wiccans and New Agers to gloss over the distinctions between cultures and divinities in favor of their own, alternate, fluffy-bunny reality, but the same arguments apply.
Aalways, though, it’s more nuanced than that. Fr. SEA discusses DuQuette’s example of the love spell, which doesn’t make someone love you so much as it makes you into the person your beloved will love back. In the case of the particular example, it makes a great deal of sense. What’s left out of the resulting discussion is how explicitly solipsistic DuQuette’s worldview is: at the end of Low Magick he explicitly states that he’s not entirely certain there is a world outside himself (quote and citation to come when I get the book back in my hands). It’s also meant to be humorous, because Lon Milo DuQuette is a funny, funny guy.
Let’s not forget that Chaos Magick maxim (where did it come from, anyway?): “It’s all in your head, except when it isn’t.” Magic generally takes the path of least resistance in order to get things done. How often have we been admonished to be careful not to kill Grandma for the inheritance with a poorly-targeted money spell? As Gordon so eloquently pointed out: “Magic has an extremely frustrating ability to give you your desired results in the least convenient way possible.” What, by and large, is the least convenient and most energy-efficient way to make change happen? Cramming your own damn square peg into that proverbial round hole, that’s what.
Now, my own take on this is necessarily skewed. Although I have practiced magic for fifteen years, I spent the first decade devoted almost exclusively to pulling my head out of my own ass, getting it screwed on in the proper direction (forward-facing, but never, ever “straight” ;p ), and clearing out the cob-webs. It’s only in the last four or five years that I’ve escalated my outward-focused magic from the web of influence that puts me in the right place at the right time into actually manifesting changes in the world around me. And while that’s been working out for me pretty damn well and very concretely so far, my experience definitely bears out Gordon’s addendum to that above maxim.
All that said, Jason’s take on this is very compelling: that some of the larger entities we deal with cut cross-ways through our measly, mortal, three-or-four dimensional understanding of reality, that they are both within us and without us. That fits in perfectly with my understanding of a spiritual reality which is at the very least equally complex as the material reality, and probably more so by orders of magnitude. So, too, RO’s argument that the distinctions of “within” and “without” are matters of perspective which the clever magician will use as best suits their means and ends.
Still, I remain skeptical of the idea of a “top-down” construction of reality, whether it figures the magician or some Absolute Divinity at the “top”. That Neo-Platonic paradigm and all its children are too simplistic for me, intellectually, and fly in the face of the rational conclusions I have drawn based on my own personal experiences.
Finally, however, I wish to make clear: my conclusions and beliefs are inevitably founded on just that: my own research and personal experiences. All of the stances I have seen so far are well considered and, I assume, similarly founded on years of research and experimentation. Which, if we assume that everyone is operating and arguing in good faith (and I do), only goes to prove that the universe is bigger and more complex than any of our puny, mortal, meat-brains can comprehend.
Love and light, folks. The blessings of your favorite gods on each and every one of you.