Science and Magick

By Leo Smith | May 26, 2002

From: shaman[at]cix[dot]compulink[dot]co[dot]uk (Leo Smith)
Subject: Why join alt.magick
Date: Sun, 28 Mar 1993 12:10:58 +0000

<< On another note, I can see that there seem to be quite a lot of members who are scientists or are scientifically-oriented. I’m curious about why you’ve joined this list. Are you looking to understand magick as I am? Do you practice any yourself and how do you reconcile it to your scientific side? Am I wasting my time here with the kinds of things I’ve already posted? I’d be very interested in communicating with people who are involved in magick AND who speak my language. >>

I think that I can summarise my own reasons as follows.

I believe that Science is the logical outcome of the mediaeval magics: Insofar as gaining power over material reality – or rather consensus reality – goes, science is the magic of choice, because it simply works better than any other.

However our lives are NOT, as science sometimes seems to imply (and as certain ‘hard’ scientists would like to affirm) completely concerned with consensus reality.

Science may be able to clearly define what IS in terms of other things that ARE, but it cannot tell me what attitude I should adopt toward what is. Should my attitude toward a religious icon be one of devout ecstasy or utter contempt?

The hinge-pin of science is the attitude of detached objectivity: Indeed this is precisely the point in the continuum of human consciousness that allows science to be practised. Science is applied reason. But science has no validity in terms of the other aspects of human experience that are not reasonable or founded on reason. For me, magic is the study of and means to arrive at, other attitudes of mind than rational detachment. The paradox for me is that sometimes the best way to approach these states during and after the event, is through sober detachment and objectivity, although they can never be entered into in that state of mind.

So magic and religion, to me (although I dislike religion as I feel it is a most abused and exploited system) are the means to explore the territory delineated as follows:

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“What you think, the attitudes in your mind, and your personal feelings have a reality, Science can only express that reality as the by product of neurochemistry. In this vacuum, magick is, to me, a serious study of the effects of changing my personal relationship with ‘consensus’ reality not only on myself, but on my body, and on the rest of ‘consensus reality’ insofar as any effect is discernible. The data so obtained lead me to incline to the view that the scientific picture of man is currently inadequate. “

So far I would say that my studies lead me to believe that-

  1. Some form of primitive communication of a non-verbal nature exists between all living things to a greater or lesser extent. It is manipulable by symbolic means and is the vehicle for many skills – dowsing, witchcraft (of the spell casting variety), ‘dream-time’ and some clairvoyant experiences.
  2. Feelings are another sense. But one that is most tricky and unreliable because of the exact place our modern consciousness resides.
  3. Science is a bloody miracle, and probably one of the greatest magicks that man has ever made :-)
  4. The paradox of magick, is that to access the other states of mind, much of the reason for wanting to so do has to disappear. Just as the Saddam Husseins of the world would never have the self discipline or detachment to unravel the secrets of atomic energy, yet are the ones who want it most desperately, the power seeking mage is doomed to disappointment. They are likely to be sidetracked into delusions of grandeur.
  5. The techniques of arriving at altered relationships are so many and varied that in the end I agree with Carlos Castaneda that the only important thing is the _intent_ to change. That is an unrelenting need or desire to be other than that which you are. You can taste the effects of various shifts of attitude (what Castaneda refers to as shifts in the assemblage point) using ritual methods, or drugs, or spontaneously under shock or stress, but to have the ability to move this position at will and under full volition takes years of practice, and the key is (again wholeheartedly agreeing with Castaneda) to stop the internal dialogue – which is what binds us to normality and reasonability.

I personally also agree with Castaneda after some years of thinking about it, that there IS a grave danger that any over-emphasis on magickal techniques, or meditation, or what have you as means to halt, or alter the internal dialogue, are finally counter productive in that the practitioner gets hooked into another set of rules and dialogues, when what is required is to break free of the need for them at all. ALL THAT ANY RELIGIOUS OR MAGICKAL PRACTICE CAN DO IS TO DEMONSTRATE THAT OTHER POINTS EXIST. To then deduce that the practices themselves have some inherent value beyond this, or that THEY INDICATE AN UNDERLYING REALITY WHICH CAN HAVE THE SAME CONSENSUS AS NORMAL REALITY is to my mind making the gravest of mistakes. The example I alwys give, is to say that to discover that becoming a ‘born again’ christian can transform an individuals life, is no reason to infer the existence of God, or Christ in any way whatsoever. This is to mix the world view of science based on reason, with the worldview of religion, based on faith, to bad effect. Science says ‘electrons exist’ because this fits in with a pattern which is ultimately based on experiences that we all agree to treat as real and universally experienceable For sure you can say that ‘God exists’ is a statement based on religious revelation which is to some extent the consensus of the faithful, but the difference is that an electron is the simplest model that explains the effect, and has no moral implications. God and christ are explanations that, whilst they do fit the experience, are loaded with moral implications. And they are certainly not the most simple explanations.

So on the one hand we have science – essentially economical and conservative with its descriptions, proceeding with the utmost reasonableness in its descriptions. And on the other we have romantic faiths, extravagant in their claims of reality, whose effects on the personal lives of those who believe is as powerful as science is on the material world….and yet my point is quite simply to dismiss thousands of years of theology with the simple statement

“Faith Works”.

To a scientist, that may be closing the door forever on mysticism, on religion, on magick.

To a magickian, to a shaman, that is opening the door to infinity……

I hope you see what I mean :-)

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