The Ontological Reality of Deities, Spirits, and otherworld beings


Thanks to the polytheism vs pop culture magic debate that has been going on I've been thinking a lot about my own interactions with deities, demons, spirits, etc. Galina Krassakova posts her own views about her experiences and why she doesn't need theories to define her relationships with her deities on Pagan Square and though it might surprise her and the other polythiests, I'm actually in agreement with her argument that theory ultimately distracts from doing the actual work. Theories are at best tools, but even as tools they should be used carefully lest they overshadow the actual work.  My latest article on Pagansquare discusses theory and its role in magic further, but for this post I thought I'd focus on my experiences with Deity, spirits, and other assorted spiritual beings I've worked with. That phrase "work with" is likely where I and the polytheists differ and we'll get to why that is later.

My journey with the spirits has taken me on some interesting paths, and some of those paths have been theory oriented.  I've explored archetypal theory for example and applied it to my practice. My book Pop Culture Magick is a prime example of the application of archetypes to magical work and to be honest I still use some of that in my practice, particularly with identity magic. And working with the concepts of archetypes has lead me to some interesting conclusions about deities, demons, etc., based less on theory and moreso on observation, practice, and experience with said beings. I don't feel that these realizations take away from the reality of the spirits, so much as provide some additional forms of engagement that ultimately can lead to a more primal experience of spirit. I liken it removing a mask and uncovering what's really underneath the mask, and realizing that the mask was used in order to provide a particular space where spirit and human could meet for the comfort of the human.

Yet the removal of the mask was also the removal of theory. Instead of focusing on the attributes and behaviors, the trappings as it were, I encountered the deeper ontological reality of the spiritual beings I was and do connect with. And instead of trying to get them to fit my agenda or needs, I allowed and do allow myself to be moved by them, to fully experience them as they are instead of through an interpretation based on theory. The irony is, that by allowing myself to be so moved, I've been moved as well by the pop culture spirits I've worked with, the ones that are supposedly not real. In my article on pop culture on pagan square I mentioned how I had a long relationship with Thiede. Thiede is a character in Storm Constantine's Wraeththu series, a fantasy series, and yet for me Thiede has been and is real. Thiede is the guardian of Space, the revealer of the ley lines between planets and stars, a dehara, and so much more to me. Reading about him in a book was only the start of my connection to him, and it was a connection, from the start, that moved me deeply.

When I say the phrase "move me" I'm not talking about being emotionally moved to tears. I'm talking about encountering a spiritual force that has deeply affected me, changed me and pointed my life and spiritual practice in a different direction than it might have gone otherwise. And that experience isn't something you can just slap a theory on. It defies theory because theory is ultimately an intellectual process used to categorize and define something into a neat little box that you can store away until you need it. I've had an encounter with something fundamentally different from me and that experience has changed who I am. It has changed my identity.

And this is not an isolated incident. Each year I work with a different elemental force and part of that process involves working with a spirit guide that provides a "face" through which I can interact with that elemental force. The elemental balancing work is an intense process of change that is brought by interacting with the element. There is no theory for it, but simply the engagement of practice and the recognition that I need to work with a given elemental force in my life. The various entities I've worked with during the balancing rituals haven't been archetypes...far from it. They are collection of beings that even today are in my life. They are not something I believe in...they are something I experience. That's an important distinction to make because in my opinion belief is just another theory, another tool. The experience of them in my life is something else. To me, the spirits I work with, traditional or pop culture, are real. There is an ontological essence of being, of identity that is objective, beyond any categorization I could give it, and it is sustained not merely by my own experience, but also by the experiences of others, independent of my own.

My work with my spirits has some form of devotion and offering attached to it. Some of the tattoos on my body, for example, are devotional offerings of my skin made to a particular element as a way of recognizing the significant role the element has played in my life. I also make offerings to particular spirits in the form of writing or through painting. But the work I do with them is nonetheless geared more toward the advancement of my work with magic than anything else. They play an important role in my life, but they are not central to it, so much as they help me focus on what is central. Thus I work with them, and this likely is different from how the polytheists approach such matters.

Just because some of my spirits aren't tied to a particular religion or culture of old doesn't invalidate their existence. And while it might be said that such spirits were created by an author or artist, I'd argue that perhaps they weren't created, so much as channeled and experienced. Whether anyone agrees with me or not on that issue isn't important. What's important in the end is that I am doing the work I am called to do. I'm getting out of my own way and letting it happen, letting myself be moved and inspired, so that I can do what I need to do. And really, isn't that the point?


The relationship between magic and being

When I think about magic and identity, I think about embodiment and being. In particular with the word being, I think of it as a verb that denotes a person's life as as a process of presence entering into collaboration with reality. The presence of a person contains all the potential of the person, as well as access to possibilities of what the person can become. Magic, when employed, is a melding of the identity of the person (his/her being) with the situation. It is presence joining reality, merging possibility with what already is to create something which nonetheless contains the presence/being of the magician.

When we no longer divorce our actions from our state of being what we find is a different awareness of possibility and magic. No longer is a problem looked at as something external and separate, but instead there is an acknowledgement of the connection between the magician and the problem. The magician examines not merely the problem as it shows up in the world around him/her, but also the problem as it shows up in him/herself, to understand the connection it has to his/her life, and also to understand how to solve it, not merely in the environment around him/her, but also within.

When being is a verb there is a recognition that ontology is not some static image of identity, but an active presence of identity that challenges the magician to know him/herself as a fluid reality that mixes with possibility on a regular basis. We are all gates to possibility, and thus our state of being is one of change. Identity, when perceived this way, is not about attachments but about becoming and unbecoming all at once. Magic is a process of identity, part of the becoming and unbecoming, simultaneously binding us to possibilities while undoing connections to others. Reality itself is no longer perceived as static, so much as it is a canvas to be painted on. What seems real falls away as possibilities are embodied in everyday life. What becomes real is a melding of presence and reality and as such it can become unreal under the right circumstances.

Magical practice based on an ontological approach frees the magician from a doing and having perspective which tends to cause the magician to objectify reality and even him/herself. To have something is to own it and possess it, and yet it also possesses you. To do something is to act on it and yet try and separate yourself from it, ignoring that it has its own influence on you. Such perspectives limit the magician and dull the mind. The ontological approach acknowledges that everything is connected and that what is acted on, also acts on the magician. There is no objectification of reality, but instead a profound realization of connection and understanding that any situation encountered by the magician has a connection that goes deeper than what casual observation displays. And when the magician can make changes to his/her presence, the core of his/her own reality, s/he also makes changes to reality around him/her, changing the ontological state of not only him/herself but also reality as s/he interacts and understands it.

Magic as a Transformative Process

If there's one description I'd use about Magical Identity is that its really an exploration of magic as a transformative process. So what does that mean? When I think about western magical practices mostly what I think of is a fixation on achieving measurable results, but I think that's what missing is an exploration of transformation and the role magic can play in the transformation of your life. I'd argue that any result you achieve isn't merely a change in the external environment that happens to suit you, but is also a transformation of you as both a person and magician. That this transformation isn't considered is always a cause for concern, because its something that shouldn't be ignored.

If we look at the anatomy of a magical act, there is a focus on change. Something needs to be changed in order to bring the world back into balance for the magician. But assuming that the change only occurs in the external environment is a mistake. The magician is also changing his/her internal reality in order to align it with the desired external result. And if s/he can't change the internal reality, the external result may manifest, but it won't last. At a recent talk I asked attendees how many had manifested a desired result only to have it go away without bringing the desired change they wanted. Most nodded their heads and the reason for that is simple. Their internal reality didn't align with the desired external reality they wanted.

Effective transformation calls on the magician to be in touch with his/her internal reality so that s/he can truly determine if a desired result is in alignment with his/her life. The magical act is a transformation of the life of the magician as well as the environment. The two aren't separate, and whatever separation we assign is a convenient illusion used to avoid understanding the act of transformation.

This doesn't mean magic involves the law of attraction or other newagey concepts. Rather what it means is that achieving a result involves a level of internal work that complements any external work that is done to achieve the result. The recognition that magic is a transformative process is a recognition that a given magical act occurs on an ontological level and involves a recognition of embodiment as a principle for manifestation. The result you desire is something that you need to embody in your existence, write it in your code to use a technology metaphor.