Over the last few weeks, some blog posts have been appearing, mainly from GD family magicians, that attempt to address the issue of religion and the magician. Both magicians stress the importance of religion upon the practice of magician, but neither have stopped, stood back, and asked, what is religion? And what is its real relevance to magicians? Here are two of the posts
The first stumbling block seems to be where both magicians have not managed to understand the difference between religion, and a Divine connection for the magician. It is an easy mistake to make, and one that happens regularly when people think about religion from a passive standpoint – it becomes the reality.
Both magicians did not grow up in particularly religious households, nor did they study religion in depth which in turn can give you a chance to step back, slow the ride down, and look at the engine.
I grew up in a Catholic household. I was educated in a convent school and toyed briefly as a young woman with the idea of holy vows. My father, who was my first teacher and inspiration was a mystical Christian (Catholic), my family on both sides have various nuns, priests, monks, bishops and even a Papal Count, in the ancestral and current family lines. I read theology, and repeated that process again recently, as it has many layers of importance for magicians. I am a consecrated bishop in the Liberal Catholic Church, and while I do not oversee a diocese, I do act as an anchor and advisor for exorcists and priests who are having problems. So I am not coming into the debate as someone who is ignorant of religion nor as someone hostile to it. But I am also someone who is not defined by religion: the relationship between me and God is no one else’s business, and I don’t need to wear a funny hat or recite meaningless jumble to connect with that power.
My opening statement for this debate is that religion itself is of no importance to a magician unless they feel it is right for them, and is what they need at that time. With that statement, I am sure there is a sharp intake of breath among various GD bods, and sniggers among various magicians standing in the shadows. So why do I have this attitude? Well, let’s first ask what is religion really? This is a tad long, so I have titled sections in case you want to skip to bits.
Religion on the autopsy table
Although many do not seem to grasp this, religion and a connection to Divinity are two different things – you can have one without the other. To understand this, first we will look at religion, and then we will look at a connection with Divinity, all of this from the perspective of the magician and magic.
Religion is a man-made structure: it is a set of rules, a hierarchy of power, a constructed mythology, and an interface that acts as a Divine filter. Its purpose is to harmonize the cultural concepts, expressions and adherence to the relationship between human society and god/s. A religion allows cultural norms, ethics and morals, societal structures, societal hierarchies and general cohesion to occur within a given group, and the connection to Divinity as a concept, or as a collection of deities ensures that it is not something that can easily overthrown. That in turn means stability (and usually, fancy hats).
For the individual it means that the person has a set pre-prepared series of communications (prayer) and ritual patterns (mass) that the person can use so they don’t have to make one up all the time, and because of the rules and structure, they know the parameters of behaviour. That in turn gives a person the understanding that if they do X then to expect that Y will happen. It is the progression from needing the security of parental boundaries in childhood, to societal boundaries in adult hood: everyone knows what is expected of them, and what limitations are placed upon them. This becomes evident in priests who have been immersed in religion all of their lives, only to feel that they have never truly ‘felt’ God. They play to the rules, but it is the religion they worship and talk to, not Divinity.
Religion developed as a way to make things run smoothly, and also to give the individual a list of telephone numbers to reach God if they needed to (here, pray at this shrine if you want X). The priestly class in any religion (and scholar class in Islam) were/are levels where hierarchical power and control can be reached if you are ambitious enough, along with gaining cool outfits, and a group of subordinates to look down upon. And although many western magical systems drew their structure from religion and copied it dogma for dogma, it is not ultimately necessary for magic. If you take away the religion, Divinity/God is still there, all around you: all you have done is take away power games, social structure, telephone numbers and cool outfits.
And it is that shopping list that many magicians object to – rejecting religion does not make you an atheist unless you really are an atheist. Rejecting religion means you are rejecting a man-made structure that has no real place on the path of the individual mystical magician, unless they wish it to be there. Connection with and communion with Divinity can and does happen quite well without all of the trappings that the ego so lusts after.
So where does this leave the magician (who is not an atheist)?
Magic is about two things: learning about yourself in great depth, and learning about how the universe works, from an inner magical perspective, around you. Through learning about those two things, you learn how to become a player in the production instead of a passive recipient – that is essentially the difference between a magician and a non-magician: a magician is about action and intent.
When a magician is very young or immature, they stride out to use action and intent to change their own world for themselves. If they are successful, some become curious and want to know how and why that success happened. That brings them face to face with consciousness and beings that are not human like themselves. It is a bit like coming face to face with your first elephant as it crashes out of the forest: the elephant and human look at each other – the elephant thinks… oh shit, not again….. And the human thinks…. Woah that is one big dude…what the hell is that?
From that connection, a slow series of steps take the magician in ever widening circles, like ripples on a pond, until they start to bump up against the power of Divinity – the power and presence of God within everything. But the magician does not know how to connect with that power, or even what it is. But with time, the encounters become more and more powerful and meaningful until one day, the magician realises he or she is connecting with Divinity in their own unique way, not through a religious pattern. That is when the magician flowers as a mystic and the mystic flowers as a magician. Religion does not come into it at all. Belief does not come into it at all. What does come into it is real powerful practical experience, something that they will never ever forget.
Once the magician has experienced Divinity in that unique one to one way, they begin to see fragments of what they experienced in the religious and mystical writings of others: mystics, priests, priestesses, poets, artists, hermits – it is irrelevant what religion they are, as the base line of the experience is the same. But in order to recognise it, truly recognise it in the writings of others, you have to experience it for yourself. You cannot theorize or read about it and think you ‘know’ – you don’t. Not until it is your experience that you own.
That experience comes through the slow un-peeling of the magician that comes through gradual steps into the cold waters of magic. Any type of magic, just like any religion, can bring a person to that point if the potential is within them. If that potential is not there, then no amount of studying magical systems or immersing in religion will trigger it: it is a latent ‘something’ that is already there, or it is not. It is in most people drawn to magic, if they are drawn from some strange compulsion/memory/voice/dreams to step into magic – it calls them usually in childhood and then waits for them to catch up.
Mixing deity and Divinity
A magician must have a religion, because the most important magical path is to develop a relationship with divinity and work with it. The name of that divinity is unimportant, neither is how you work with it. What is important is that you see it in a way that you can believe and follow the concepts which are defined by it. – Nick Farrell
This is the other stumbling block that magicians get into when they feel religion is a must for magic. Deity is a god, like Amun, Durga, Isis, Christ, Thor and so forth. They are not Divinity, but Divinity flows through them: they are aspects and substations of creation, all of which are expressions of Divinity. Virtually all western magicians study Kabbalah, and yet virtually every single one of them misses the point of what Kabbalah is talking about (much to the glee and sniggers of Jewish Kabbalists).
Each of the deity families have religions that act as operating systems for the humans to use to interact with them. A lay person will stay within one religion, or may at some point in their life, switch religion. Sadly, as an aside, the ones who switch tend to become the most fundamentalist in their thinking – it is new, sparkly, and everyone must listen!
For a magician, a religion is viewed specifically as an operating system that functions between the magician and Divinity, an operating system that can be worked with when necessary. It is important that magicians know how a religion works from an inner as well as outer perspective, and understands the construction, energetic expression and collective consciousness of that religion. Through that knowledge, the magician can operate from within that religion if it is necessary, and can then back out afterwards – and remember, they are backing away from the structure, the religion, not from Divinity itself. That is only possible if the magician fully understands that religions are simply constructs, and to gain that understanding, they need to be exposed to more than one religion, more than one operating system in their training. Through such exposure, and working from the inside of that system and then backing out, the magician can begin to understand the layers of complexity within construction, and apply that knowledge in their own work. But they do not have to immerse themselves in the belief of the religion.
Divinity existed before religion and will exist when humanity has ceased to be. Divinity can flow into religions, can reach out through deities and humans alike, as Divinity is the consciousness behind creation, and the consciousness that flows through all of creation. Most religions have a special designation for Divinity, above and beyond the deities of the religion: often it is expressed as ‘the unseen, or unknowable one’. In magic, this power is present in everything we do, and in everything around us, waiting until we stumble blindly into the ‘presence’ which opens our awareness. It is a power that is neither good nor bad, rather it is simply necessary.
So…. All of this was a long winded way of saying, no, magic does not need religion, any more than magic needs dogma. But you cannot function in magic without tripping up over Divinity, because everything in the universe is Divinity, and by magically interacting with everything around you, you are talking to God….God not of religion, but God who is the universe, the consciousness and power of the universe that runs through everything, God as Divinity that flows into all religions, and into the tree, the cat, a rock, the stars, and yourself.
Finally, if you are not bored yet, here is something I just wanted to specifically address from Peregrin’s blog.
<<<<<Nick’s take on this seems to be: “What each magician does is that they reform their religion until it fits better with the image of god they are working with.” Again, this makes sense from a magical approach, but is contrary to the religious.>>>>> Peregrin Wildoak
Just a technical point to make here, as there are a few times that Peregrin has stated something about Christianity which is not strictly true, and is more of a dogmatic belief than an actual observation. (oh and Peregrin, Orthodox, Anglican, Catholic and Protestant are VERY different on all levels) In the above quote, Peregrin takes Nick to task regarding the plasticity of religious approach, and states that such plasticity is contrary to a religious approach. Actually it is not. It is that practicality and flexibility of approach that created Christianity in the first place.
Let us not forget that the early form of the Christian religion was as a Jewish sect, not as a new religion. However when Paul and Barnabas were running around the near east trying to drum up new takers for their sect, most Jews told them to piss off – they were not interested. The pair went to Cyprus, and Barnabas used his magical skills to try and impress the natives – he got into a magical pissing context with Elymas bar Jesus (wise son of Jesus), who was the Jewish magician in the employ of the Roman Proconsul on Cyprus, Sergius Paulus. (Acts 13)
The local Jews on Cyprus were not impressed, as they had seen it all before: Cyprus was a hotbed of Jewish and Egyptian magic (from the Ptolemaic Imperial Cult) , and at the time it was fashionable for high ranking Roman officials to have a ‘Cyprian’ in their employ as a magician advisor (the Judean Proconsul also had one). As an aside, this is likely where the use of ‘Cyprian’ as a name for a grimoire or type of magic came from, carried into Europe by Cyprian magicians following their Roman employers. Anyway, digression.
The Jews ignored Barnabas and Paul, but the Romans were dead impressed. This led to a change in strategy for Paul – what had before been a concerted effort to get on board all Jews (and only Jews) to the new sect, as it was closed to Gentiles, now turned to becoming a sect that was aimed specifically and exclusively at Gentiles, while triggering hostility towards Jews. That was a huge turn around for the early belief structure, and is the earliest example of a shift in foundational policy of the newly born religion. A change which was fashioned in order to make it all fit and work better.
Since that time, there have been so many changes in the religion, its presentation, expression and structure, that today’s Christianity has little bearing on the original concept. And each change has been to accommodate a personal wish to control, to change or to manipulate the religious structure to suit their own agenda. Occasionally the change has been about evolution, but in those cases the positive changes often fell quickly by the wayside.
This is why we have so many different factions of Christianity, different belief approaches, and so forth. What Nick describes and Peregrin denies, is a simple plain dynamic of humanity – we adhere with something until it no longer suits us, then we change it. That is how religions, cultures and structures shift and change.
So thank you to Nick and to Peregrin for triggering the debate….. if nothing else it keeps me out of trouble.