The whole question of "What is real?" is one that has plagued the pursuit of knowledge ever since people became sufficiently aware of themselves to realize it needed an answer. A major difficulty is the problem of what is objective and what is subjective, or what is really out there and what is just projected out onto it by our own biases—our hopes, needs, fears and preconceptions, conscious and unconscious, admitted and denied. All we can know is what we perceive, so it is impossible to be perfectly objective, and yet objective reality is real enough, as anyone knows who has been in an automobile accident. The elimination of the perceiver's bias is one major aim of the scientific method, with its emphasis on measurement and replication intending to ensure that scientific theories work for anyone competent to apply them. But these safeguards reach their limit as soon as we begin to study anything that may be conscious, for mind may not be measured and will show a perverse defiance to attempts to fit it into repeatable experiments. Even so, certain academic psychologists still work to reduce all mental functions to what may be quantified in a laboratory setting, and come to the wholly logical conclusion that mind is no more than a side effect of the existence of nervous tissue. This makes as much sense as trying to set a broken leg with prayer and is the clearest possible proof that strict scientific methodology breaks down at this point.
Magick attempts to provide a middle ground between science and credulity, but this does not mean we escape the objective/subjective conundrum. Instead we rephrase the problem as that of macrocosm and microcosm. In magickal usage the macrocosm consists of the powers in the universe beyond us. The microcosm consists of the powers we have inside us. Traditionally, magicians have presumed that one or another of the ancient planetary mythologies can provide a symbolism descriptive of the powers available to us. The powers are personified as "the gods" who somehow project their particular powers in from the outside, and the human entity—as the "creation" or "emanation" of these gods—is a composite of these powers, which we thus experience from the inside. Once the magician chooses such a symbolic architecture, he or she has available the techniques of ceremonial magick to manipulate the powers this architecture includes, and through these techniques can either exalt a power or abase it, either draw on it or diminish it as his or her will might determine.
Thus does the magician acquire a symbolic interface through which he or she might manipulate power, and this without being obliged to deal with the question of what power as such really is.
The key to the effective use of any symbolic system is the complete unconscious assimilation of its components by the magician who uses it. In the Golden Dawn tradition this is done by memorization of the symbolism, ceremonial initiation in terms of the symbolism, and, most importantly, astral discipline. That is, one must be willing to impose the Rosicrucian structure onto one's astral visions, to require that whatever displays they choose to make be in terms of the imagery used by that system. Aleister Crowley, for one, is quite clear about this, insisting that we banish as demonic deceivers any entities who resist the requirement that they so conform. In my own personal experience this was hardly necessary, for my visions seemed anxious to do so. This was hardly reassuring to me, making it obvious that my unconscious was willing to take on any imagery, so long as it was self-consistent and able to include all the more conspicuous dualities that entertain our existence. This the Golden Dawn system surely does, and admirably so. Nonetheless, I found the whole notion of self-programming of symbolism to be personally repugnant. Thus as soon as it was clear to me that this was, in fact, the purpose of Rosicrucian training, I wanted no more part of it. My teacher at the time, Frater O.T.L., hearing my loud and articulate denunciation of the Rosicrucian option, graciously recommended that I look into the writings of an English sorcerer named Austin Osman Spare.
The essence of Spare's magick lies in his solution to the objective/subjective, macrocosm/microcosm conundrum that we just covered. Spare addressed the problem with a direct attack, coming up with what can only be described as a practical solipsism— solipsism being the belief that the self is the only object of knowledge and thus, by extension, the only thing that exists. "What is there to believe, but in Self?" he asks in The Book of Pleasure. "And Self is the negation of completeness as reality. No man has seen self at any time. We are what we believe and what it implies by a process of time in the conception; creation is caused by this bondage to formula." (p. 1) Which is to say, what we believe determines what we experience, which determines what we are, which, over time, determines what is, because through our presumptions we shape whatever comes into contact with us, according to our power. Reality is the objective residue of a subjective process. In his Focus of Life, Spare elaborates:
Eternal, without beginning is Self; without end am I; there is no
other power or substance. The everchanging modifications and
diversities we see are the results of forgetfulness, misinterpreted
as nightmare senses. When the Self again desires, then I only and
nothing else shall remain. Permitting all things, whatsoever is
imagined comes out of it. (p. 21)
To give an idea of the dynamic in all this, in The Book of Pleasure Spare offers the argument of me (the reader) and a butterfly. I am conscious of being "I," the butterfly is conscious of being "I," and therefore my consciousness and that of the butterfly are the same. Spare errs in presenting this as a logical syllogism, in which terms it must fail, but it isn't really logic he's giving. Instead it's a description of the facts of his perception, upon which he based his magick, which worked.
The consequences of accepting that my "I" (me!) is the same as your "I" and the same as every other self-aware "I" in the whole of existence—that it's all at bottom a common experience made separate only by our belief in our alienation—are somewhat far-reaching. The Golden Rule becomes a truism and the decision to eat flesh presupposes a willingness eventually to be eaten. But to think that I am fundamentally the same as that bitch mosquito I just swatted, or that sonofabitch who cut me off on the Turnpike this afternoon, well, it's just too difficult to believe and so we don't, mostly. Creation is the result of this separation, the result of all the points of view—identical in source, essence and being both with each other and with the primordial I—seeing Self as something to eat, to fuck, or to flee from so as to keep from being eaten. From, again, The Focus of Life.
And in this living nightmare, where all is cannibalism. Why dost thou deny thyself? Verily, Man resembles his creator, in that he consumes himself in much filth.
Heaven gives indiscriminately of its superabundance to make the ghastly struggle called existence.
The necessity was a deliberate serving of its own pleasure— becoming more alien. Remoteness from self is pain and precocious creation. (p. 7)
The necessity of creation was a deliberate serving of pleasure to the I, letting it see Self as a ground to be mined for pleasure, an object, not really Self at all. With this split came pain, and a desire to avoid pain even as pleasure was more fervently pursued. The split spawned millions of species and thousands of stratagems from fins to hard shells, from flight to pheromones, all the efflorescent life of the natural world. And in essence the split is simply belief embodied in flesh, the biological reification of "a process of time in the conception." To the extent we can recognize and reintegrate these, if only through an erasure of our own belief, the Cosmic Momentum behind Infinite Creation will be ours to tap, to do our wills.
At least that's the way Spare had it, which certainly does not mean that's the way things really are, even though his magick was effective. We can just as easily say that his self-alienated solipsism is simply an effective attitude to have when addressing power to do magick, even if existence in itself is not solipsistic. After all, the only way we can encounter the powers of magick is through our perception; we can even say that everything in consciousness is either a source of power for manipulation or else something that inhibits our manipulation of it. The fact is that what is really out there is not that important magickally. What matters is the way we take it in, the underlying assumptions we have over what it is, and what we are able to do with it. Optimism and pessimism are obvious examples of such assumptions, attitudes that can color our whole approach to life. More subtle are our preconceptions concerning what is possible, on what is and isn't connected in the "outside" world. Through taking the solipsistic attitude that All is Self, Spare evades the problem by making everything "inside," and All Things have their connections there.
So for Spare it is our habitual attitudes that hold us back, our beliefs as opposed to our ideas. [The English Chaos magician Peter J. Carroll proposes the intriguing notion that the difference between a belief and an idea is that an idea may be true, while a belief is always false. Ideas may be true because they are merely recognitions of patterns in what is perceived. Beliefs are always false because they define the way things are in an absolute sense, and the Absolute is something that does not permit any manner of definition.]
It is as if our beliefs are tracks that run parallel to power, drawing on it to move us along but without allowing us to address it directly, to tap it deliberately and exploit it. We must leave these tracks if we would do so.
For Spare, belief is the main obstacle to the work of the magician, with beliefs concerning the nature of spirit and psyche the most insidious of all. "Religions are the projections of incapacity," he writes in The Book of Pleasure, "the imaginations of fear, the veneer of superstition...while oftimes the ornament of imbecility... What you have ordained in your righteousness is your very rack, imagined though it be!" (p. 1) Faith he condemns as mere self-delusion, since it "'protects' but does not change the vital." For instance, if a man has faith that some benevolent deity has saved him from his personal pack of demons and that he is thus no longer their puppet (in spite of usually ample evidence to the contrary), then he will believe that there is nothing more to be done and will not take the trouble to meet them on their own ground and bind them into submission, which is the only way to control them with any degree of reliability.
"When faith perishes, the 'Self' shall come into its own... Myself, I have not seen a man who is not God already."
But then even beliefs that define man as a god do not escape Spare's condemnation, for he is equally derisive of traditional magick. "Others praise ceremonial Magic, and are supposed to suffer much Ecstasy! Our asylums are crowded, the stage is overrun! Is it by symbolizing that we become the symbolized? Were I to crown myself King, should I be King? Rather should I be the object of disgust or pity." (p. 2) He tells us that magick is a natural thing, our ability to spawn events as if by chance, ceremony more a style of living than any sort of production. And he dismisses the traditional practice of classifying different types of power according to their places in a theosophical scheme. "The freedom of energy is not obtained by its bondage, great power not by disintegration. Is it not because our energy (or mind stuff) is already bound over and divided, that we are not capable, let alone magical?" (p. 3)
The unbinding of mind-stuff is the essence of Spare's approach to magick—that and also its channeling in ways that do not bind it, that allow it to be focused according to will without putting any restrictions on the magician's ability to specify its use.
For Spare, it isn't just beliefs concerning the nature of the divine architecture that bind our power, but any belief short of Self-love. Self-love is an acceptance of and ecstasy in the Self as a whole, the sum of all possibilities in all times and places, what he calls Kia. Without definition, its name a designation rather than a description, Kia is a typical mystic Absolute [Whole] and can be equated with the Chinese [Wuji], [the Hindus Parabrahman], [the Buddhists Nirvana], the Qabalistic Ain Soph, [the Gnostic Pleroma] and the Neoplatonic One. "Obvious but unintelligible, without form, its design most excellent... How mighty it is, in its assertion of 'Need not be—Does not matter'![See also "The Tao which is Tao is not Tao" of Taoism & "Neither this, nor that" of Hinduism] Self-love in complete perspective, serves its own invincible purpose of ecstasy. Supreme bliss simulating opposition is its balance... Could we but imitate its law, all creation without command would unite to serve our purpose in pleasure and harmony." (p. 8) Which is to say, our cosmic purpose as nodes of perception in Kia is to enjoy it, taking all seeming contradiction and conflict as variations on its infinite power—power which, once we recognize it for what it is, will be ours to use. But we cannot so long as we are enthralled by beliefs smaller than love for Kia, for these inevitably trap us in the snare of duality—simulated opposition, to be sure, but deadly enough for those who are caught in it. It is out of our conceptions that duality comes, out of our tendency to make distinctions.
Whenever we make a distinction—whenever we say "It is this and not that"—we are unconsciously affirming that that is equally real to this, and thus must in time supplant it. If I believe order exists, then so also must disorder. If disorder did not exist then order would be a constant state and would never assert itself enough to be believed in. If I say male exists, then so also must female; if there were only asexual reproduction, then there would be no way to make the distinction, and only life would be recognized, whose opposite would be death. And so it is with any distinction we allow ourselves to make. "Duality in some form or another is consciousness of existence. It is the illusion of time, size, entity, etc.—the world's limit. The dual principle is the quintessence of all experience, no ramification has enlarged its early simplicity, but is only its repetition, modification or complexity, never is its evolution complete." (p. 9)
Now for distinctions like predator and prey, male and female, and life and death, the dual principle is obvious and easy enough to accept, at least in the abstract. Nor, on this level, is it anything we can easily render down for the power in it, these distinctions being the result of the collective machination of Self and I—the pattern of Creation itself. So if we are to tap the power of Kia behind duality, the dualities have to be closer to home. A good place to start looking is among those distinctions at the root of our emotional reactions—energetic responses whose power will be available to accomplish our wills, if only we can reconcile the distinctions.
The distinctions that we enforce, that we insist are truth, are the ones that constitute the crippling beliefs. Suppose, for instance, that a farmer looks at his field and tells himself that it is lush. If he has accepted the dual principle, he will simultaneously affirm that there is also land that is arid, and that in time his field may become arid, too. But if his self-interest requires that his land will be lush, and the rainfall diminishes, then his belief in lushness will cause him to irrigate. For a time, perhaps even for several lifetimes, this tactic will succeed, but ultimately the salts in the water will build up in the soil, making it not only arid but a stinking desert, sterile to all life. His enforcement of his belief makes the poles of the duality more extreme, bringing on the violent intervention of the opposite—crippling to Self-love and the power that comes out of it. As Spare writes in his Anathema of Zos: "Belief foreshadows its inversion. Overrun with forgotten desires and struggling truths, ye are their victim in the dying and begetting law." (p. 13)
The way of no belief would simply be to change crops to account for the shifting rainfall, going from corn to grain to grass as required, always taking care not to strain the soil for the sake of short-term profit. This requires sensitivity and thought, a mind brimming with ideas, but not belief, which only stifles the creativity needed to be in harmony with what is perceived, to truly love Self.
Of course scientific technologies can be applied to situations like this to extend the reign of one element of a duality over its opposite. To cut down on salt build-up, drains may be installed in a field to carry off waste water. But the reversal will still come eventually and will be that much more extreme—for instance salty soil littered with clay tiles instead of just salty soil. Any technology that does not account for all elements of its component dualities will ultimately fail. The whole perspective of scientific materialism, by treating all things as dead and devoid of spirit, will also.
But while the dual principle is a subtle problem in physical technology, in moral and social technology it is overtly malignant. The most blatant example of a moral duality is that of good and evil. To exalt what is perceived as "good" or, worse, to try to wipe
out "evil," only strengthens what we don't want, causing it to manifest in ever purer forms. The Catholic Church's desire to wipe out the perceived evil of disunion and heresy caused it to create its Inquisition, which itself became an unsurpassed instrument of horror. America's attempt to banish the evil of Communism culminated in the abscess of the Vietnam War. And then when it lightened up and just pushed the equilibrium in an abstract military sense, Communism collapsed under the weight of its own dogma.
The good/evil duality plays havoc with our inner states of mind as well as the course of history. If we allow the situations or people we encounter to in any way offend us, Self-love and the power it supplies will be impossible to maintain. To believe that something is offensive and combat it, even if only in our minds, is to split it off from Self and lose our power to perceive it accurately and manipulate it decisively. Also, the energy we devote to opposing it will give it a sharper definition and a greater strength.Of course it isn't just anger and offense that can alienate us from Kia. Fear does it, too, as does guilt, sentimentality, greed and pride. In Spare's published work he implies that the source of these is our limited beliefs. For myself, I must say that I don't think he goes deeply enough. In my own experience, beliefs that have a foundation in an emotional response to circumstances are generally products of biases that are wired into personality, psychic reflexes that may be interpreted as independent spirits or demons and managed through an ongoing program of evocation and magickal control.
Spare, on the other hand, treated the problem as one of beliefs as such, and attempted to dismember them through two more general techniques—an exercise he called "the death posture" and the use of a logical tool he called "the Neither-Neither principle." The death posture is just that—a posture—so it isn't really relevant to this essay, but the Neither-Neither fits right in, it being the corollary of the dual principle—its precise counterpart, in fact.
The point of the Neither-Neither is that just as the assertion of any distinction makes necessary its opposite, so the combination in mind of a distinction and its opposite will nullify the duality and release the energy of the original assertion as an undifferentiated power that should then be used in magick. This energy Spare called "free belief."
The Neither-Neither works against any belief, from a belief in the existence of any "permanent" object (just imagine it over time) to emotional necessities to the airiest philosophies. Of course the more committed one is to a belief, the more difficult it will be to conjure up the necessary opposite; in cases where the belief seems absolutely necessary, it will take great personal power just to see the other half of the duality, and even more to transcend the two halves to leap to the level where both may be held in mind simultaneously.
Also, just because a person is able to accept both halves intellectually doesn't mean that he or she must accept them both as equally valid courses of action. That is, it is important to distinguish matters of Fact from matters of Will. To apply the Neither-Neither to the statement "I am alive" is to affirm that "I will die," but this does not mean I am thus obliged to make it so. So long as it is my will, I may fervently promote the Life half of the duality. But my purpose will be supported if I can accept the reality of the Death half, for by dancing close to it great power may be snatched, power that may be used to live all the more triumphantly.
To close, I would only remark that once you generate free belief, you should always focus it into some sort of magickal working, for if you leave it lying around it will energize one or another of your dominant demons, bringing the alienation back all over again, even if in a different form.