What's under the Mask?

mask The other day, in a teleconference call for the Process of Magic class I was asked if I thought a deity represented access to something beyond what it was in and of itself. It was an intriguing question and it prompted me to consider my own perspective/experiences of deities as well as what I've read in various books.

When I work with a spiritual entity of any sort, I recognize it's own existence in and of itself. But I've also noticed that various entities also represent specific functions. This is true not just for deities, but also Angels, Daimons, etc. On the one hand, this can be attributed to the need humans have to label what they deal with and/or be able to explain the usefulness of a particular entity. On the other hand, it could also be true that the particular entity really does represent those particular attributes and has presented itself to people accordingly in order to provide its knowledge to those people.

On a deeper level, however, I also think that any given spiritual entity represents access to something deeper than it, something that is so primal that it may not be easily understood or experienced. Jung's archetype theory applies here. In one sense Loki the trickster is his own entity, and yet in another sense Loki is a facet of a deeper spiritual force that is the trickster on a more primal level. And when we find other entities that have similar characteristics of the trickster, like Coyote, what we see on one level, are the masks of that deeper spiritual force. Coyote and Loki are still their own entities, but they are also representatives of that deeper spiritual force, or masks, if you will that provide a filter for the spiritual force and a face that is understandable to the people who are working or interacting with that energy.

It's also important to recognize that there is a cultural facet attached to the archetype. Even though Loki and Coyote might represent the Trickster, there are culture specific aspects which don't make them swapable for each other. In other words, Coyote will have different cultural characteristics that are suited specifically for the culture where he represents the trickster. However, with the cultural aspect accounted for there is enough similarity in terms of what the trickster does that we can see access to something deeper, something that is underneath the mask. The question is can we understand it?

I think whatever understanding is had occurs at a very primal level. It is something that makes sense, but not in a necessarily rational manner. And when you consider how rational people have become, how analytical they are, the necessity for having a mask is apparent because the mask is for the analytical, rational sides of ourselves that need something to cling to in order to understand and work with that deeper spiritual power.

Archetypes, movement, and getting into the role

I've been reading Acting and Singing with the Archetypes (affiliate link) and trying out some of the exercises. My main draw for picking up the book was because of my ongoing interest in integrating movement, dance, and space into my magical work and I thought the book might prove useful for that purpose.

It reminds me a bit of Antero's Paratheatre techniques, and I find that with the archetypes I need to get into a state of mind and body that allows me to channel them. It's not all that different from doing an invocation, but what stands out most is how mutable a given archetype is...or rather I find that it is much easier for me to draw on a variety of pop culture sources as well as more traditional sources. The various archetypal labels of Child, Devil, Trickster, etc. are useful, but in a way I wonder if we confine ourselves to much to those labels? Is the space pirate an archetype in its own right or just a variation of an existing one?

The process of orienting yourself into invoking a particular archetype requires two essential behaviors. The first behavior is an ability to let go of your ego or sense of self. You empty that awareness. The second behavior is the ability to embody the archetypal awareness and characteristics and traits. There's different tools you can use. I've seen people use masks for example, which can be a lot of fun, but your body is the ultimate tool. The change in posture, facial patterns, voice, and even a change in clothing and accoutrements can be quite useful. It's also a change in emotions, and energy. What are the emotions the archetype feels? How does that translate into space and movement? What are the functions it embodies and how does that change the space and movement of the body?

Getting into the role is getting out of the way and allowing the archetype, spirit, etc fill me. I allow my body to become a vessel for the divine force I am working with. I open myself to the experience and let the experience define the space.

Book review: Acting and Singing with the Archetypes (affiliate link) By Janet Rodgers and Frankie Armstrong.

This book was written for an audience of actors, but as someone who is not an actor, but nonetheless does work with archetypes I found it to be a valuable read, with useful exercises that can be applied to more than just acting. I like that the authors drew on perspectives of movement such as Laban's work, but also that they made their work very accessible. This is a book I'd recommend to a counselor, actor, artist, or the magician who wants to take a different approach to his/her magical workings.


Archetypal actions

I've been watching Nikita lately, which is the newest rendition of La Femme Nikita. In one of the episodes, the actress playing Nikita does the famous action of diving into the laundry chute to avoid being incinerated by the missile. You know the action I'm talking about. It's the action that occurred in both movies and likely occurred in the other La Femme Nikita series as well. It's what I call an archetypal action, an action that defines and embodies the archetype or character. It makes you think of all the iterations of that character. It brings that character to life for you.

If you're an actor, or a magician doing that action can also make for an effective invocation, though I'd recommend against diving down chutes to avoid being incinerated. My point being however that if you look at pop culture and mythology in general you will likely find specific actions or activities that a given character, god, etc did and those actions are part of the archetypal consciousness of that being. You may even find that there are actions that repeat across different cultures, with the result being that the action taps into something deeper than the faces that happen to display the action. You tap into the essence of the archetype, something faceless, that nonetheless represents what it is you want access to. An archetype isn't just the face, after's the actions that embody the concept.

Part of my work with identity has involved using space and movement to shift identity. Archetypal actions can be a part of that work, particularly when you want to invoke a spirit by embodying it. Actions allow the spirit to take over, to possess and become part of your experience even as you enter into its experience. I've done such actions in my work with Elephant and Dragon for example, but also with various characters I've worked with. By mimicking the movements and actions, a person invites a different body awareness, and can use that awareness to call to the entity of choice that s/he wants to work with.


The psychologizing and scientizing of magic aka "Prove it"

I've been reading some different posts in the blogosphere about magic, psychology, and atheism, and I've been mulling over my response to what I see as a trend toward trying to psychologize and scientize magic in order to make it legitimate, at the expense of writing off other perspectives that aren't rational and thus don't fit in a neat little scientific box that can be conveniently labeled and explained. I mention Atheism, because I've noticed that most of the posts have been written by atheists. And just to be clear, I don't have anything against atheism per se, but I do have my own perspectives and observations to offer, which run counter to their perspective. There's this prevailing attitude that believing in gods or spirits as real entities in their own rights is out of fashion and not really tied into the experience of the numinous and that it's to perceive them as psychological constructs or archetypes that can be interacted with as metaphors, but not treated as real entities. And that may work for some people, but I think that when you exclude the possibility that such entities could be real, you also exclude some possible avenues of manifestations. I wonder how much the denial that an entity could be real is based in trying to find comfort that such beings are just psychological constructs as opposed to real entities that could effect a person's life.

It seems to me that by psychologizing magic, it makes the entire experience into a mental masturbatory routine, with little substance to add beyond mental confirmation of one's dysfunctions or lack thereof. By trying to explain a magical experience or result as a psychological or even psycho-physiological result what avenues of possibility are being written off because they can't be explained or if they are it's written off as irrational beliefs?

The effort that goes toward scientizing magic, ends up treating science as the holy grail that can be used to explain and categorize magic. Science is treated as an objective truth or knowledge that can be used to disprove the irrational aspects of magic, while focusing in on the privileged rational explanations, which usually tend to be focused on an anthropological or psychological explanation.

What's forgotten is that even science is a subjective experience. A theory in science is never considered 100% percent fact or true because scientists recognize that there can always be some information that's missing that would change our understanding and consequently disprove a theory. More importantly, however, and what is less acknowledged is that science is ultimately derived from human observation and experience, neither of which is objective. This means that any information we have is ultimately derived from a subjective experience that could be disproven at any time.

The on-going trend to scientize magic, to get rid of the irrational comes at a cost that is rather steep, in my opinion. It comes at the cost of utilizing non-rational perspectives, which while not rational, are nonetheless valuable because the suspension of disbelief can open doors that a more rational perspective would write off because it doesn't fit within a scientific or psychological explanation. The other issue that occurs is that magic is relegated to a mental feel good phenomenon, with no tangible results. It's something people do to find comfort, as opposed to being a methodology that produces real, tangible changes.

While I won't deny that a lot of where can magic occur is in the mental or conceptual phase, I will also say that I've manifested very real, tangible physical results for myself and other people that weren't just based on psychological or scientific perspective, but utilized non-rational perspectives as a means of accessing possibilities I'd have otherwise written off if I just relied on a psychological or scientific model of magic. I do find value in deriving some of my methodology from science or psychological perspectives, but I don't think they even begin to accurately describe, define, or otherwise provide a full and coherent explanation of magic, nor should they.

Also just because I rely on irrational perspectives and approaches doesn't make me any less skeptical. However I've found that such perspectives have proven themselves time and time again. Writing them off in favor of a rational explanation purely because that rational explanation says it isn't possible seems at best foolish and at worst dogmatic.

What it really boils down to is that while I my derive some of my techniques and methods from a scientific or psychological perspective, I wouldn't use either to try and label or define magic, because in doing so I unnecessarily limit what I can do. Likewise I wouldn't use magic to define or explain psychology or science because the magical perspective wouldn't adequately describe, define, or demonstrate a coherent understanding of such disciplines.

I recognize that for the atheist magicians these perspectives are useful for explaining magic, but I find their definitions to be rather dull and useless. There is something lacking in such approaches. I suppose they could say I was a superstitious fool, but magic will never just be in my head, nor will the entities I work with just be archetypes, and I'm perfectly happy with that perspective.

Different perspectives on Deity

While I've written extensively about my relationship with deity and the concept of service from a Buddhist perspective on this blog, it's not the only perspective I have about deity or how deities interact in our lives. Over the last sixteen years I've come up with a variety of different perspectives all of which are equally valid and true for my approach to deity. Perspective 1: The Buddhist/Taylor perspective - Gods are powerful, but also slaves to their power. They may have people who worship them, but ultimately the lessons the provide those people are focused on getting those people to grow past needing gods, so that the gods can stop being diety and ascend to Nirvana. As long as one person worships the gods, the gods are still enslaved to their power because that power is derived from the belief of that person. To westerners, this is a fairly blasphemous approach. It argues that any god, no matter how powerful, is ultimately a servant to the human's journey to reach nirvana. I personally find it appealing because it is such a different approach to the evangelical fundamentalist orthodoxy found in extreme versions of Christianity, and to a degree even in some pagan beliefs. I also think it's a useful exercise to implement this perspective sometimes in terms of viewing the gods in a way that is decidely foreign from how many of us in the West may be encultured to perceive them. Instead of viewing a deity as an omnipotent being who we have to obey or else suffer hideous consequences (whether it's hell for the Christian version, or some kind of curse according to different pagan versions), it can be useful to consider that a deity is actually there to teach us by the example it provides of being a slave to its own power, and to the attachment that the power can represent.

Perspective Two: Chaos Magic/Taylor Perspective - Deities, spirits, demons, etc., are psychological archetypes and imprints. They symbolically represent deep structures within us. We use the symbols to access those deep structures. I tend to favor this perspective the least. I find it useful in terms of reaching some of those deep concepts as well for entity creations, but I also think it's a perspective which all too easily leads to a solipsistic perspective of the universe.

Perspective Three: Derived from Fantasy books by Feist and Eddings/Taylor Perspective: Gods, demons, etc are beings we have relationships with. As we evolve and grow in those relationships, so too do the gods, spirits, etc grow. We are interconnected and need each other to help each other evolve. I've seen this perspective argued in fantasy books more so than anywhere else, but I actually tend to think there's some truth to the arguments. The gods fulfill certain roles, but also grow as times change, and humans grow by having a relationship with deities, where the deities challenge the humans. Both humans deities give something to each other by the relationship that is had.

Those are the three main perspectives I have when it comes to and three are more prevalent than two...I don't really see a need to pick one perspective, because I think all three can be relevent at a given moment.