psychological model of magic

Where psychology fits into magic

Jason recently posted about some of his thoughts on where psychology fits into magic. He and I share a similar opinion about the perspective of treating magic as just a psychological phenomenon, but I agree with the point he makes: There is a place for psychology within magic. In Magical Identity, I discuss different psychological methodologies and how they can be applied for magical work, especially for internal work.

One of the areas that I personally feel is neglected far too much by magicians is internal work, i.e. working with your internal values, beliefs, attitudes, and dysfunctional issues. Meditation is one method for doing internal work and when it's combined with psychology, it can be truly dynamic. I've made some amazing breakthroughs using meditation as well as working with a therapist, and applying psychological perspectives to my work, which in turn has allowed me to achieve greater clarity and focus in my life, making the living of it much, much easier. I've actually found that the need to do more overt acts decreases when you do internal work.

Before I did internal work and underwent therapy, I was a mess. I could practice magic as effectively as any of them, but my use of magic was mostly reactive, used to solve a crisis or problem, but with little thought put toward understanding my role in that crisis or problem. Choosing to do internal work freed me from a lot of unhealthy behaviors and provided me the opportunity to become much more proactive and focused in my magical work.

Aside from that psychology can provide a useful avenue of exploration in terms of understanding your magical process and how specific techniques work. It's fair to say that my background in social sciences informs my magical process and some of that background is related to psychology. Where I make a key distinction is recognizing the limitations of using psychology to describe magic. It's a different discipline and where there are insights, there are also limitations.



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.