Vince Stevens

Ethics and magic Pt the one

I've recently started work on another co-written book project, since the project with Bill W is temporarily at a lull and I've been meaning to get started on this new project for a while anyway. This new project is an interesting one for me as it deals primarily with ethics and magic. I'm working on the first chapter and poring over the very few books I know of that deal with questions of ethics and magic (including your work Gerald) to any degree of length. It's rather odd to realize just how few books there are on ethics and magic, and to note as well that most of what I have come across is rooted from a Wiccan perspective on ethics. I've found a couple other works that deal with ethics and magic from other perspectives, but the majority of western occult texts mainly seem to deal with practical applications of magic, with little concern as to the ethical ramifications of said practices. Chaos magic tends to take a fuck off attitude to ethics and magic, and a lot of ceremonial magic seems to be far more concerned with pomp and pageantry than examining the ethical underpinnings of what's being done by who. Even where I have found some focus on ethics, it's been written in a rather vague way, which speaks to a decision to abstract the issues, as opposed to dealing with them concretely.  It confirms quite a bit to me, in terms of some of the concerns I have about the occult subculture and where it is or rather isn't going in terms of evolving.

Is there such a thing as ethical magic? That's a rhetorical question by the way. I actually think there is such a thing as ethical magic...but how to define it or explain what it is...well that's the subject of a co-written book I and Vince Stevens are working on. Stay tuned for more information, as I'm sure I'll be posting more details and considerations as I continue this work.


energy work and meditation update

I've been continuing to read up on and pursue the Qigong energy work and breathing practices I've been learning. I'm contemplating adding Tai chi to the mix, and not the Tai chi you think of being done in the park , but the traditional martial form of Tai chi, which while still soft, emphasizes the use of the five elements as part of the martial form of Tai chi. One of the local members of GEM is connected to someone who teaches it from that perspective. For me, it would be an excellent opportunity to start incorporating moving meditation and martial arts into my meditation practice, which has intensified even more as I continue my emptiness working. The moving meditation would add an additional layer to my work, as it would incorporate my body even more into the meditation, while also challenging me to get more into the integral energetic workings that I'm starting to experience more of, as I continue the current meditative work. As is, a lot of the energy work I'm doing is continuing to allow me to get to the core of my emotional responses, reactions, and triggers. The work isn't easy (as you'll get to read tomorrow evening when I post my latest elemental emptiness update), but it is worthwhile. I feel more at peace with myself and others than I ever have, and whilst I am still very much experiencing some tumultuous times, I am also finding my responses are changing, which makes those times easier to navigate through.

I have to admit I haven't posted as much lately about my spiritual work as I have in the past. Then again, I also haven't been writing nearly as many articles or a book on my spiritual work either.  Some of this is because I'm going through an intensely personal time of change and development in my spiritual path. Some of it is simply because I'm in the process of researching a really big project...Every time I think I've taken a step forward, I find more information I need to research and experiment with (but there is an end in sight). Some of it is reflective of changes occurring in my life, specifically my focus on building and running my own business and pursuing being self-employed full-time, and some of it is simply experiencing the moment without having to catalogue it as much.

Still, I will say that I am actively working on a co-written project with Bill Whitcomb, have another possible co-written project with Vince Stevens, which is just about finished with the outlining stage, and yes I also do have my big solo project which is still being heavily researched (and will, when finished, providing what I hope will be a radical change in how people understand magic). And in the meantime, you've got this blog with the occasional updates I offer.

Review of the Fabric of the Cosmos and some thoughts on being a moral person

Book Review: The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene

This is an excellent book on contemporary physics. It is written for a popular audience, but even with that, it is a dense book. However Greene does an excellent job of making the material easier to approach. He uses some pop culture references such as the Simpsons to illustrate and explain the concepts involved in the physics he's discussing. What I enjoyed most, however, is the evident enthusiasm in Greene's work. His enthusiasm consistently made the book more enjoyable and the concepts easier to understand.

I highly recommend picking this book if you want to learn more about physics, or if you're interested in how science can inform your spiritual practices. I found it useful in helping me understanding some of the finer details involved in quantum mechanics and how time and space work from a physics perspective.

5 out 5.

I've started reading Confucius: The Analects. Vince Stevens recommended I check his work out, especially given some of my interests in looking at occultism from different angles outside of the rebel archetype. So far, I've just been reading the introduction, but the passages already stand out to me:

Behind Confucious' pursuit of the ideal moral character lies the unspoken, and therefore, unquestioned, assumption that the only purpose a man can have and also the only worthwhile thing a man can do is to become as good a man as possible. This is something that has to be pursued for its own sake and with complete indifference to success or failure.


Love for people outside one's family is looked upon as an extension of the love for members of one's own family. One consequence of this view is that the love, and so the obligation to love, decreases by degrees as it extends outwards...our obligations towards others should be in proportion to the benefit we have received from them.

I left some of the examples in the second quote, but reading both passages was interesting because while I found myself in agreement with the first passage, I had a definite knee jerk reaction to the second. nonetheless on further reflection about the second passage I could certainly see the point of the author and agree with it as well, mainly because I see this particualr pattern demonstrated in this culture all the time.

The first passage speaks a lot to my current spiritual journey, with the focus being on a process of change with no definite result in mind, so much as a desire to become what and who I can become as a result of going through that process. If it seems odd that I don't have a specific result nailed down, it's because I realize that having a specific result would necessarily diminish the opportunities and possibilities I can experience as I undergo this journey. In fact, that speaks to the weakness of result oriented magic...The focus is so heavily on the result that the process isn't fully explored or experimented with. But what could that process tell you if you did explore it? So no specific result...I'm involved in a process of change, with indifference to success or failure in any traditional sense of the words. Perhaps the lack of concern about success or failure is what makes all of this efficacious. There's no external standard or bar to compare myself to, no definite end of the journey or a sense of completion. It just is...and so am I and the only constant in that is's a process of change, and whatever results arise out of that change ultimately feed right back into the process, and so have meaning only as a context to the process.

The second quote, in reflecting on it...I see it in the cliques, family structures, etc. The degree of separation definitely impacts how people treat each other and/or the willingness of said people to help (and harm) each other. I can see how the benefit cycle influences how people treat each other...It goes back to the concept of give to get. You give, in order to get benefits. It's an eminently practical method of handling social relationships. The idealist in me cringes, and yet I see the same behavior repeated in myself and others. If you belong to x subculture and so do I, the chances of us helping each other is increased because of that connection. Granted, that increase may be minor, but it is still present. Obviously as you get to know people better, and incorporate them into a friend, tribe, or family structure what you are willing to do for those people increases as well. I see this behavior in everyone. I don't think I know anyone who falls outside of it. And I recognize it as a survival strategy, something which has worked really well for humans for who knows how long. Is there a way to get past that survival pattern? Do we really want to? I'm not sure...I had my kneejerk reaction, but as I think about it more, it makes a lot more sense. I'll be curious to see what further reading yields and I'll be sure to share it with the rest of you.

In Loco Dei: Pathology in Western Magic

By Vince Stevens In dealing with Modern Western Magic, I and those I work with often find consistent patterns of pathology in Western Magical culture:

  • Tendencies to arrogance and self-obsession among magicians.
  • An inordinate focus on rebellion, rebelliousness, and distance from the dominant - or any culture.
  • An unusual distance from people, processes, nature, and the world at large - a distinct sense of separation.  Magic is push-button, and people, cultures, nature, and even magic are seen as something mechanical, easily boiled down to a fw traits.

These pathologies often trouble I and those I work with in magic.  As magical pratcitioners, as much as we enjoy the activity, the pathologies in Western Magical culture prevent barriers.  Simply, when one joins a group, a list, go to an event, you worry you're going to run into what are lovingly called "the nuts" (and less lovingly called many other things.

I find no reason to think these pathologies are universal to magical and mystical practitioners.  A quick examination of practitioners of magical arts and their legends in different cultures reveals a variety of different kinds of personalities, virtues, vices, and practices.  One can find alchohol-fueled shamans, serene Buddist monks with occult abilities, compassionate Taoist sage-Immortals, and more.  There is no reason to assume the pathologies of Western Magic are universal to magical practitioners, or even have any particular utility.

Looking at these pathologies, I felt they would be best addressed.  So in my small effort to make a contribution to understanding these issues, I decided to ask - just where did these pathologies come from?  Perhaps by understanding these issues, I could do some good.

So, I started at the top.

ARROGANCE: The Christian God.

Christianity was the dominant religion of the West for centuries, and is an odd religion in many ways.  It proposes an omnipotent and omniscient deity of ultimate power that still possesses identifiable human traits of anger, love, and so forth.  Its central deity, despite his great power, allows evil and suffering to exist due to a rebellious minion, later explained as an issue of free will - which one would figure that an omnipotent being could deal with such an issue.  Attempts had to be made to reconcile a rather cruel tribal (Old Testament) deity with a later loving deity, leaving one with a loving being manipulating a messed up world and eventually condoning eternal torment for people for what would be frankly trivial actions.

The Christian God was also a distant being.  His creation was a possession of his own, as were the sentients within it.  He would regularly send disasters, plagues, and so forth upon people and countries, theological weapons of mass destruction.  He had no connection to his creation except as something separate.

However, despite his confusing nature, the Christian God was considered the leader in all things, and thus in many ways, could be taken as a role model.  His commandments were to be obeyed (even if they seemed to benefit those relaying said commandments).  His world was law, and his confusing traits were to be explained as mysteries or by theological acrobatics.

Magical practices of these times were thus limited by the strange issues of this deity: early Western-Christian magic seems to have split between "Natural Science" magic that worked with perceived neutral or divine forces, and a kind of religious magic where one used (or misused) the name of the Christian God, rituals, and so forth to achieve certain ends.  One worked within creation - or stepped into the rather large shoes of the Deity to call angels, coerce demons, and so forth.  There were exceptions (such as the mystical meditations of Honorius and of course the Cabalists.), but such two-sided magic seemed to predominate.

One never left the sphere of control of the Omnipowerful Christian God, but one could act like him.  And in this, I think the seeds of the pathologies of Western Magic were planted (as well as frankly pure social problems).  The first role model was an incomprehensible, erratic tyrant.

Of course, tyrants produce rebels . . .

REBELLION: Shout at the Devil Explaining the problems of the world in light of the hodge-podge of the Christian God proved rather difficult for people - a perfectly powerful, perfectly loving being was dealing with a supposedly imperfect creation.  Fortunately, theology provided a way with Satan, who can be thought of in many ways, but I think of him as a religious plot device.  A McGuffin with horns.

Satan is a figure somewhat less confusing than the Christian god, if only because he's somewhat simpler: a rebellious servant who decided to do his own thing and was, essentially, a professional pain-in-the neck.  You could always blame Satan.

Accusations of Satan Worship were common in Europe for hundreds of years - different sects of Christianity naturally assumed other sects were in league with the devil.  Satan was everywhere you weren't, and the explanation for all bad things.

Satan had two influences on Western Magic in my opinion: 1) First, Satan's influence on popular culture at the time led to plenty of stories of Satanism - and of course Satanic magic.  Faust may have been popular, but similar tales of deals with the devil popped up all over.  The idea of the magician as in league with dark, rebellious forces easily worked its way into popular consciousness, and affected people's expectations of magic.  Would-be magicians, frauds, novelists, and honest seekers were easily influenced - or were glad to influence others - with false grimoires and strange experiments. 2) Satan led to endless speculation, and of course, writing.  He was explored in Paradise lost.  He was written about.  He became a convenient dumping ground for people's fears.  Of course, as the human mind can't resist exploring, he was at times visualized as a hero, or turned into a counterforce to an evil false God with a nice injection of pseudo-Gnostic thought.  Perhaps the ultimate triumph of the idea of Satan were people who decided to actually go worship him, as others had been accused of doing.

However, Satan really wasn't much of a role model, except perhaps for the bacchanalian rebellion he provided against straight-laced society.  He was childishly (and suicidally) rebellious, destructive and lashing out against creation, and in general, a jerk.  He was a mirror-image to the Christian God, and he lived up to it, adding only one new trait: rebellion.

Thus the Western Magician was caught between an arrogant and bizarre god, and a romanticized but destructive rebel.  Magic itself was part of a system that usually involved coercion of beings (and a helping of whatever old pre-Christian rituals could be adapted).

DISTANCE: Blinded by Science As Western Society moved into its scientific age, a more enlightened time, the scientist took his well-deserved place in culture.  New discoveries, rational exploration, and intelligent thought became important to culture.  It's no small feat to say science is something we owe much to in Western society.

However, science still grew up in the culture of the West, and it inherited some of the pathologies.  Science could justify tribalistic identity with "scientifically justified" racism.  Science was seen as liberating us from creation and controlling it - much as the deity had.

Science in Western society, for all its gains, postulated humans distant from creation, controlling it, dominating it.  Despite evolution's reminder of our origins, people were still distant and controlling - just as the Christian God had been.  I will be fully straightforward in my biases - I think a lot of modern Western science hasn't yet transcended its cultural biases.

Unfortunately those biases came from the Western Christian concepts - and people were still following in the footsteps of the Christian God (and in a few cases, Satan's cloven hoofprints).

Science was in a way a boon to Western Magic - bringing in psychology, scientific metaphor, and cultural study.  I'd say in fact Western Magic greatly benefited from science.

However the distance rarely seemed to go away.  I've seen magic boiled down to pure, materialist psychology, fears of "scientificizing" or "psychologicizing" magic, and so on.  Magic, I think, has often suffered self-esteem issues in the West, and thus compensates not by doing its own thing, but by trying to be more like science.  There's a point when if you start being something else, you stop being what you are.

THE SUMMARY Western Magic, though making many leaps in the last decades (or century), still has its pathologies as mentioned in the introduction: Arrogance, Rebellion, and Distance.  The role models of Western culture (acknowledged and not), leave us with these traits.

However acknowledging the past lets us cope with it - and magic is after all transformational.  By acknowleding that Western Magic hasn't always had the best role models (and survived despite that), we can go about developing the future.

Visualization usually isn't

One of the things I read constantly in magical, occult, meditative, and other works is the need to "visualize" things.  One visualized light, or deities, or anything else.  When it comes to mental and magical work, visualize is pretty high in the buzzword bingo game. Visualization is of course very important as any meditator and magician can tell you, but I find that it's one of those words that's misunderstood and often misused.

When the term "visualization" comes up (when it's not being thrown around casually), it usually seems to mean one doesn't just imagine the site of something, but feels something intensely - site, sound, smell, etc.  One is not "observing" what is to be visualized passively, but is intimately involved with it as if it is a real object.  In my own writing I tend to think o fit as "feeling" an object or image.

Unfortunately, more and more I encounter people that think visualizing really is just conjuring up a visual image.  It's pale, context-less, and uninvolving for the most part.  We can let a thousand images pass before our inner eye and not feel any connection to them - and connection is what magic and meditation is all about.

I think the term "visualization" wormed its way into common usage simply because humans are visual creatures, and the term itself is convenient for the act of actively conjuring up an image.  Unfortunately it's too easy to take the term literally.

Now that being said, ask yourself what other commonly used words aren't actually as useful as they may seem in occultism . . .

The Purpose of Magic

In a chat I had earlier tonight with Vince Stevens about occult culture one of the things we discussed is what the purpose of magic practical is. Specifically what does a person use magic for and what consequently are the benefits of practicing magic. I think purpose is an important lynchpin to consider within magical practice  and for that matter how one defines magic. The purpose provides the impetus for why a person does utilize magic. So what is the purpose of doing magic? What are the benefits of its practice? Simple questions to ask, but I don't think the answers as simple. On the one hand, it could be argued that getting a desired result is the purpose of magic, but that's a fairly short termed way of going through life. It doesn't necessarily address what will happen after you get that result. Additionally this kind of perspective is rather materialistic and does nothing to address the benefits of magic beyond gaining something.

On the other hand, the purpose of magical could be for other purposes than just obtaining results. The refinment of the self, helping other people raise there level of awareness, etc. The question then becomes where does magic fit into the overall community or the lives of other people. In other words what role in the community does the magician have? What is the purpose of the magician in the community? How does the magician serve the community?

These are some good questions to consider...I'll be putting some thought into them myself.

On the Art Of Return

The last three years have been quite busy for me, and there's aspects of my meditative practice that I minimized or ignored (at times while starting other practices), so I've engaged in a comprehensive effort to return to them. A lot of my work involved abdominal breathing and energy work, which required gradual build-up in order to realize (with deep abdominal breathing your entire breathing changes).  So my first goal was to merely repeat my previous works and build back up the way I had before.

And after a few months, my breathing work wasn't going so well -  I stalled out and didn't make any progress.

This was frustrating and curious to me at the same time.  I'd done this before, but suddenly I had no progress despite having done some deep breathwork for years.  How could I now be stumped?

After a lot of analysis, work, and quite a few other methods, I came to the rather simple conclusion that it wasn't working because, having achieved some deeper states of breathing, my attempts to repeat it didn't work because I was in a different state of mind.

  • I'd had experiences from my past breath work that set different expectations - expectations I didn't have the last time.
  • Some of the exercises i was using were frankly unnecessary - I was restraining myself from deeper practice by deliberately forcing shallower practices that I could frankly leapfrog.

In short, I was a different person, with different experiences and a different state of mind.  The proper "prescription" was not repeating my past work, but finding how to approach it in a way that worked for who I'd become.  I knew how to ride the bike, so training wheels were just a distraction.

Despite our hope for regular practice, our meditative and magical practices are interrupted at points.  However as we leap back to them, we have to keep in mind that once we achieve certain skills and have certain experiences, the paths that led us there may not be entirely the ones we have to take again.

Magic, Culture, Identity

Taylor's latest post helped codify a few things I'd been considering as well in the world of magical practice and the role of identity. As noted previously, a great deal of the influence on my magical and meditative practices are distinctly Eastern, mostly Taoist, Indian, Chinese and Buddhist.  Such practices also have far different identity-concepts for people with magical and mystical inclinations and skills.  The often-eccentric Taoist Immortal, a studious Chinese Fang-shih, an awakened Buddhist mediator, are different identities than the western magician.

Thus I've begun to wonder if the concepts of the Western Magician are not just different - is it possible they are too limited?  Do the identities provided in Western Magic limit who we are and what we can become, especially in an age where we have so much information at our finger tips:

A few factors and things I've thought of: * The aforementioned dominance of Crowley.  I of course consider him talented, but also over-rated, and a person who despite his many experiences, never actually seemed to grow much as a person.  He became very iconic - and perhaps having that icon was too limiting. * The ironic influence of Chaoism.  Chaoism's deconstructive bent was entirely necessary for magical and mystical practices to make any progress because one had to go back to the basics.  However ages later, it appears there's still far more deconstructing going on that constructing.  I feel the deconstructive vein in magic has gone too far, with systems being built up and torn down, but little being made for the long term. * The western role model for the magician.  The west's spiritual heritage is often anti-magical and extremely limited in it's acceptance of mystical experiences.  Thus western magic has an odd undercurrent of negativity running through it - the Faustian image, excessive Crowley, battling secret-societies, etc.  This self-limiting and subconciously negative view of magic is one I find very troublesome and suspect lies as a mild, constant poison in western culture. * The association of magic with rebellion in our culture.  Though understandable given the last item, rebellion is only useful in what comes out of it.  If the Revolution doesn't build something, then what's the point of it? * The rebellion aspect of magic also prevents it from being integrated socially - when you are considering yourself an "outsider" there's only so much one can do with society at large.  Most of history has practitioners of magic not as outsiders in the large, but part of society - even if the society kept them at a distance for obvious reason. * The dissociation of magic from other practices.  Being "a magician" is in a way really limiting - as our ideas of a magician are limiting.

Coming to the Western approach from a mix of being an outsider and an insider, I think our concepts of the magician need to change for magic to evolve and grow, embrace broader identities.  Maybe we need to be practitioners of magic while being more, where magician is part of a larger - but integrated - picture.

Ethics and the Development of Will

"The Will" is an important component of Western Magic, if often ill-defined in practice and discussion. I have defined it as a personal coherence, wherein ones self is so unified that its directives and activities produce clear results - be that in magic or other activities. I consider it essentially the same as "Te" in Chinese culture, the Self of Jungian psychology, or the Freudian ideal where an aware Ego replaces incoherent Id and mechanical Superego.

Building Will, exploring Will, etc. is of course something important to a Magician - that quality is what lets us achieve results as well as personal well-being. There are meditations, exercises, goal-directings, banishing of demons internal and external, etc. that people apply to clear their minds and develop that curious, important quality.

One technique I find useful in developing the Will, is ethical self-analysis and adaption of ethical stances.

Our initial ethical stances and beliefs do not come to us by choice, of course. If we are lucky our parents, peers, and culture provided us a useful ethical system and encouraged us to analyze, understand, and improve our stances. Or if we're unlucky, we get something, to put it charitably, that is less than ideal and is more pure imprinting than anything else.

Unfortunately I think a lot of us aren't overly fortunate in our ethical upbringing and experiences. Ethical situations and issues can be unpleasant, constricting, and confusing because of our pasts and our culture. Trying to imagine a sane discussion of ethical issues on American News, for instance, is something I put in the realm of "extremely unlikely".

So, let's work on our own ethics. When one examines ethical situations and choices, when one decides ones stances and decides on ones codes, one can actually have very profound experiences:

  • To understand why one holds beliefs is very informative - even if at times one discovers unpleasant truths.
  • To confront unpleasant situations and analyze ones beliefs and actions is informative and strengthens one's resolve.
  • To make conscious decisions as to how one can and will behave - and why - is to take responsibility for oneself, providing freedom from unconscious imprinting and making choices conscious.
  • To understand how ones magical system(s) affect and recommend ethics helps one connect themselves to that paradigm.
  • The exploration of ethics allows the exposure of deep psychological structures so they may be leveraged, addressed, or healed.
  • Exercising and developing one's ethics also lets one be "inoculated" against surprises in the future where one can be paralyzed by an unexpected ethical conflict.

I myself find a good sit-down with ethically stimulating literature to be great for personal growth - a little Confucius, a book of classic tales and legends, etc. can provide wonderful fodder for consideration and analysis.

Working actively on my ethical development and contemplation has been helpful to my magical work, especially that of a psychological nature and in my energy work (obviously). I'm more comfortable with myself, more sure of my choices, and better able to rally my resources, and feel more 'in place' in the magical systems I work within. In short, it helps develop my Will.

So next time, before that meditation or work at banishing that personal demon, consider a read of a good classic on ethics or similar.

Magic and Role Models

The Occult and Role Models Humans are social creatures, and we inevitably seek people to model our behavior off of. Magicians and mystics are no different.

My experience with the occult, from some early Robert Anton Wilson, Jung, and general mysticism, has largely been from Taoist sources. Interested in meditation, Chi work, and philosophy, it was a natural for me - and Taoist lore has a rich source of colorful tales, characters, and practitioners. My experiences, thus, are a mixture of Western psychology, and an Eastern mysticism containing everything from mental exercises to tales of drunken poets.

Taoism of course provides a lot of fascinating role models, from legendary to more contemporary figures - writers, magicians, scribes, humor writers, and more. There's an emphasis on people who pass on teachings, advise others, find teachers, and so on. Role models are, in short, a part of it's tradition, from the mystics to the doctrinaire religious teachings.

However, this influence on me was not something I noticed until lately, and considering how I would look at legendary figures and modern translators as role models led to me asking the question about role models for other occultists.

At least in my experience, I find little consideration given to role models in occultism. People certainly have them, as noted it's human nature, but I rarely see it discussed. However occult practice involves creating change, it involves symbol and association, and thus I'd say the role models an occultism choses are of paramount importance to what one achieves.

As discussed here on this blog, not everyone is exactly thrilled with Aleister Crowley. I give him his due, but I do consider him to be overrated merely because his reputation seems to be far more than deserved. However, I'd ask another question - how many people is he a role model to, and is he a good choice? I'd say he was smart - but I wouldn't want to be a copy of him.

Or for that matter other mystics - Phil Hine, Grant Morrison, David Lee, Isaac Bonnewitz, and so on - how many people out there are basing their lives on them? How many, for that matter, know it?

If you're an occultist, ask yourself who your role model is - and you can be sure you probably have one or two or more, even if you don't like to think you do. Why did you pick them? Are they a good choice? Are you living up to them? Are you exceeding them?

Examining one's occult role models lets you understand yourself, your choices, and what you become.

That, of course, is a major part of magic.

- Vince Stevens