Tradition vs Experimentation

Jason Miller wrote a recent blog entry about tradition vs experimentation and it prompted me to do some thinking about the topic as well. If you've read my books you know I don't decry tradition per se, but I definitely favor experimentation. Nonetheless I think tradition is important. Tradition grounds us, provides us an awareness of where we've come from. Tradition provides the training in the principles. Tradition is useful because with it you have perspective on what's come before and how its worked and if you've done your work, you gain a solid understanding of magic.

Experimentation frees us from the limits of tradition, from the limits of doing something the way other people did it. Experimentation challenges us to look beyond what we know, to explore possible alternatives. Experimentation relies on a sound understanding of the principles of magic, but also challenges those principles through the very act of experimentation.

I'm an experimenter. I did my time with both ceremonial and ritual magic, and with any given system of magic that I learn about, I do my best to learn it as its practiced before I start making changes. Yet what thrills me is the cutting edge and doing something different. I respect that people can get measurable results by doing magic a specific way that others have done, but I've also gotten measurable results through my own work and the reason is simple. Magic operates on specific principles or rules and if you understand those rules the trappings don't matter.

But you'll say "The trappings do matter" They only matter because you choose to make them matter. you've read meaning into them and invested in belief in how they matter and as a result you need them. But experimentation challenges that and argues for making whatever props you want, or even doing it all without props. As long as you get a measurable result, that's what matters to most people. I'll add that as long as you can explain your process so that others can reproduce it and achieve similar results...then you're doing it right.

I look to tradition because I've used it to understand how magic works, and also to understand how people have limited themselves in their approach to magic. I've used experimentation to free myself of their limitations and to challenge my own as well. What I love about magic is there is no one true way to do it. And the people who try to sell you on one true way are fooling themselves. Their unwillingness to test their own limits ultimately causes them to fail. It doesn't even matter that they achieve measurable results, if all they ever do is stick with their own limited perspective on magic. In fact, its truly disappointing when you find such people. Their lack of perspective causes them to fail magic itself.

Magic isn't meant to be limited to one true way. Learn the traditions. They will benefit you. But experiment as well. Test yourself. The whole point of all this is to do more than just repeat what's already been done.

The balance between tradition and experimentation

I've always been a big believer in experimentation when it comes to magic, but I've also always believed that you need to have a solid foundation in order to experiment. The person who experiments without a firm understanding of magical principles won't get very far, and I don't know even know if you could call the magical work experimental, if there isn't a firm foundation in work. The magician is someone who has made the effort to learn how other people have practiced magic, and incorporated those practices into his/her life, but has also decided that just relying on tradition alone isn't enough. S/he recognizes the value of experimentation and innovation as a way of advancing one's understanding of the world, and also one's spiritual practice and how it applies to the world.

In my own spiritual practices, I've always tried to find a balance between experimentation and tradition. While I definitely think experimentation is important, experimentation without foundation won't get you very far. This is why it's important to do the research, to learn the skills, and then look at how you can improve on them, or what new directions you can take them in.

I don't believe in mindlessly adhering to tradition for the sake of tradition. Such dogmatism leads to fanaticism, and also ends up causing a spiritual tradition to stagnate. This doesn't mean practices should be disregarded or tossed aside, but if a person never tries to innovate or experiment at some point s/he will stagnate. I see this occur a lot with people who try to emulate the life of someone else or only do magic the way the book tells you to.

The magician is someone who tests the magical practices s/he performs and looks for ways to improve on his/her practice. It's not about cutting corners, but about being methodical and revising your process in favor of improving on it.

Learn from tradition and what others did. Build a firm foundation, and then...challenge it, experiment and evolve. This is my approach to magic. It's not the stumbling of the fool, but rather the measured pace of the magician who recognizes that magic isn't about repeating what others have done, but learning what others have done and improving on it. But remember the fool has intuition and sometimes will find something the magician wouldn't...so take a risk sometimes and try something different...the experience will definitely teach you.

Follow up Post to the time to Get over Crowley post

In her latest post on the Crowley movie, Psyche says: "Ellwood seemed pleased the movie received a terrible review because he hates Crowley...I hear this sentiment [She's quoting my post where I mention his claim to fame is publishing the GD rites and also his showmanship] a fair bit from people who have not actually read much Crowley and are therefore unfamiliar or unaware of the influence he’s had on magickal thought and practice - “hero-worship” rather misses the point."

In point of fact, I don't actually hate Crowley. I just don't think what he's put out there is nearly as impressive as other people seem to think it is. I'm actually quite familiar with Crowley's work, having read Gems From the Equinox, The Book of the Law, Book Four (Parts 1 - 4), Moonchild, Liber 777, Magick in Theory and Practice, and The Book of Lies. And even after reading all of that I'm just not as impressed as others are with his work (As is evidenced by my post where I showed the problems in his definition of magic). Do I think he has valuable things to say? Certainly. I also think he's been dead for a long time, and other people have written works that are equally as valuable but often ignored or not known about, because in Western ceremonial magic, the buck seems to stop at Crowley. A good example would be Pascal Beverly Randolph who's work, as I mentioned in my post about the movie review, was essentially plagiarized by Crowley with no reference back to his work (and yes I have heard actual Thelemites, and ex-Thelemites admit that this was the case).

I don't hate Crowley. What I do hate is the often uncritical acceptance of him, and unwillingness to look at other works by other authors. What I hate is how so much focus is put on Crowley and how he did so much for magic, and how much other people and their contributions have been ignored because OMG Crowley!!! There are some people who even try to emulate his practices and life as much as possible, instead of developing their own practices. And this is where, yes there is hero-worship. Some people get so focused on what Crowley did and how wonderful they think his writings are, etc, etc...and I begin to wonder if they have original thoughts of their own, or have done anything with their practice which isn't just an emulation of what Crowley did.

I know some people argue that Crowley defined magic and that no one can surpass his accomplishments, and that bothers me as well, because if seventies years after the death of someone, you haven't seen genuine progress in a discipline, or people haven't come along and offered something substantive that continues to push that discipline in new directions, then that discipline is dead. At that point, why bother doing anything new? And that's what I hate...that people venerate him to such a degree that the potential for genuine progress is that much lessened...because hey if so and so is such a bad ass magician, I'll never compare to him. They shouldn't be comparing themselves to him in the first place. What they should be doing is getting what they can out of his works and ALSO reading and practicing what others did, while also developing their own practices.

I think Crowley was a person much like anyone else who has his share of experiences and occult adventures. I think he had a lot of courage to write what he did in the era that he wrote in. I also think that he did some questionable practices, such as plagiarizing the work of others. And in the end, I think that while it's important to acknowledge that he's had some influence on Western magic, and continues to this very day, it's also time to start focusing on what others have done and written and learn from their works and experiences. Crowley was just one person, and unlike others I disagree that he's defined magic or set an unsurpassable record. He's offered a perspective on magic, but there are others. He did some impressive magical work, but if you're doing it right than so have you.

I don't hate Crowley. I just hate his influence. I hate that it discourages genuine progress. I hate that people are so wrapped in what he did that they can't look at his work in a balanced manner, and they don't look at the works of other people, because they think that nothing else that anyone wrote had value compared to Crowley. And they don't try to do anything on their own, because they don't think it has value, unless what they're doing is what Crowley did. And that's why it's time to get over the hero worship.

When sickness strikes, opportunity occurs

I'm not sick, but my wife is. She has strep throat. I took her to the hospital last night and we got her the appropriate anti-biotics to combat it. But she's still infectious, so there's the potential chance I could get sick. I actually had felt a bit of soreness in my throat earlier that day and it'd been a bit more irritating when she was diagnosed. It occurred to me that the sore throat was a symptom of my body already trying to fight off potential sickness. So I decided to help my body. The sore throat was a warning and given that I didn't want to get sick or deal with strep throat, I immediately began to work with the throat. I visualized little nanobots going in and rounding up the strep and getting rid of it with lasers. Afterwards the nanobots administered healing reagents to my sore throat. Within an hour of doing this visualization, the soreness in my throat was gone. I decided to have the nanobots patrol my throat until the infection period is finished.

So with sickness (not my own thankfully), the opportunity to come up with a defense occurred. And my body has been duly grateful afterwards. So sometimes something like this can be an opportunity for a person to experiment

The Wii and magic

We got a Wii recently and already it's sparked some thoughts on how it could be used for magic. While I enjoy the ability to play retro games, by far what I enjoy the most is using the wii mote. I've been fooling around some on the wii sports and something which stood out to me about it was how while the wii mote does give you a visceral experience in using it, it can also give a person an idea of how they think. In this case I'm thinking of bowling, where with a push of a button you can change the direction of the line that you want the bowling ball to go to, factoring in how the ball will curve. I took to using that quite a bit as I got a sense for how the controls picked up my movements in the bowling. And it made me realize that in terms of thinking in lines, I tend to think in curved lines as opposed to straight lines. Straight lines have always represented a kind of linear trap to me, where as a curved line is flexible.  I don't know how much any of that really relates to magic beyond perhaps recognizing how one think influences how a person approaches magic. But I will say that I think there are some applications for the wii..Imagine a program where you could do the ritual movements with the wii mote and see on the screen the flaming pentagram. On one hand you might have the removal of visualization, but on the other hand it does offer that opportunity to riase energy both through your own actions and the actions of the computer avatar...sort like an electronic astral plane...or you could have a program where you create your own temple.

I think there's a lot of that could occur with the wii...in terms of applying it to magic...it'll be fascinating to find out out just what can be developed.

Thinking in lines Straight lines vs curved lines...i.e. wii bowling.

Use it or lose it

Use it or lose it. As an experimental magician, it's easy sometimes to get caught up in experimenting on something new or different, but sometimes in the desire to create something you also risk losing what you've done before. Invention is always useful, but knowing what you've done before or what others have done is equally useful. Some of my most meaningful magical experiences have involved doing daily work that is repetitious, but pays off in the long run because of the focus it provides. There's also something to be said for occasionally coming back to techniques you've developed in experimentation and using them for more than just to see if something works. I recently started creating a new web-sigil for myself because of a lot of projects that I'm working on. It's helping me clarify what I want to work on, while also directing the spiritual and other resources toward helping me accomplish those goals.

If we don't use the tools we have, we start to lose them, we forget what we have...it's easy to do, especially with so much that's around us, but it's important to make time to revisit what you have done sometimes so oyu can get fresh inspiration and also make use of those techniques that helped you in the past.