Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Construct or Conjure?

So, I wanna go over the whole modern doctrine that human ‘belief’ and focused ideation can shape the ‘spiritual’ or ‘astral’ or ‘magical’ world. Especially, by extension mortals can create at least the simulacra of living spiritual beings, and possibly create spiritual individuals in fact. This doctrine has become almost an assumption in modern magic. While it is convenient, and solves a variety of theological problems, it also verges on what seems, to me, to be an unfortunate mechanicalism. We’ll get to this point, but let me say that I would prefer my spiritual universe not to be arranged as a machine. 

As I have moved away from the ‘energy model’ of magic and toward deliberate work with the spirits I have tried to reframe some of these classic magical techniques, perhaps restore them to a meaning prior to modern mechanization. This particular trope – the creation of an image and the ‘animation’ of it by magic – turns out to be easy to trace and recover.

To look for the origins of the idea, I think we must look to the facts of human spirit-vision experience. In spontaneous dreams, shamanic trance or initiatory vision-journey the mind generates an ‘imaginal-body’ with which to navigate the unconsciously-generated-or-perceived lands of vision. In dreams we note that powerful forces may be ‘dressed’ in the appearance of things and people drawn from our memory of life, and in spirit-vision such things happen as well.

The human power to shape matter – wood, stone, or clay – into representative shapes has surely been a core of magic since unremembered times. Humans made images of the spirits, and those material images must have arisen from imaginal forms, preserved verbally by transmission until they were expressed in more solid art. Those imaginal forms are not lost, but become a part of the work of formal and magical invocation. The Theurgists emphasize the importance of visualized ‘eidola’ (idols) of the gods, and the Tibetan ritual magicians have made a science of symbolic visualization of spirits. These practices fed into the line of occult revival and reconstruction that generated the Golden Dawn and the theurgic work of Mathers.

Following the Middle Ages, during which the spirit-model of magic was the standard, I think that we must look to Eliphas Levi’s concept of the ‘Astral Light’ for the root of our meme. Levi taught that the spiritual world closest to our own was made of indeterminate stuff that was and could be shaped by human passion and imagination. He called this the Astral Light, and taught that it was a level of causation immediately prior to our world, so that things shaped in the Light were likely to come into material existence. He proposed that control of the Light was the core of practical magic, and that has influenced magic ever since, all the way to the “power raising” of Neopagan group ritual spellcraft.

However that seems to me a significant departure from tradition, moving from working with spirits as living beings to working with an impersonal magical ‘stuff’. Historical magic most commonly works through the making of pacts with spirits, and the gaining of the personal authority that allows one to deal with them. How does this fit with the notion of the construction and animation of images?

In classical magic the use of “telesmatic images” involved the construction of forms based on the ‘sewing together’ of specific symbols based on the intent of the work. Thus if one wished to marry the forces of Venus and the Moon on might compose an image of a beautiful Green woman with the wings of a white butterfly, or the like. Such an image was described as able to ‘transmit the virtue’ of the planets involved. This notion of the ‘virtue’ of a planet or deity – it’s impersonal influence or ‘vibration’ is as close as I can see us coming to the idea of ‘magical energy’ in traditional magic. In other cases the harmonious nature of the symbols would be assumed to summon a spirit – a daemon – that conforms to the mixed nature of that formula, and is willing to appear in that shape.

Centuries later, the magicians of the Hermetic Order of the Golden dawn composed synthetic figures for their Kabalistic spirits, based on the Hebrew letters of their names. In this way a characteristic figure was created prior to the actual summoning of a spirit. That figure was understood to attract an already-extant spirit of the correct nature to answer the magician’s need.

A moment of theory: This notion of inventing composite inner or visualized idols for specific intentions is a direct parallel to doing the same thing in matter. To carve a spirit-idol in clay or wood makes an image into matter, the visualized image creates a middle-ground for the power. This is the basis of ‘hierarchical’ evocation – that a spirit is brought from its abstract origin-place through the middle-ground of vision and ritual, to abide like a flame in the material world. Thus the attention and power of the spirit itself is brought into material action for practical magic.

Back to the history of the idea, I believe that my own understanding of the idea of ‘construct elementals’ or ‘servitors’ began with 70s ‘ESP’ research. The 1972 ‘Phillip Experiment’ was big news to geeks like me tracking the still-credible science of ‘parapsychology’. Our puff-text asks “did the group accidentally summon a demonic or spiritual entity or did they create a real ghost?” I’d like to ask that too.

Occults texts of the early 70s including Paul Huson, Al Manning and Sybil Leek provided simple, ritualized methods for creating (or conjuring) a ‘construct familiar’, based on some physical token. The merging of the ‘construct entity’ idea with that of the witch’s familiar was instantaneous, and the ‘magical servitor’ became usual. Franz Bardon, and his classic “Initiation Into Hermetics” worked his detailed instruction in the use of magical energies into the idea of magical clockwork gnomes who could carry messages or spells. I feel it is important to mention the 1971 publication of Bonewits’ “Real Magic” in which a synthesis of parapsychology and traditional magic was presented that quite closely reflects modern opinion. He describes deities and spirits as living on the ‘energy’ given them by worshippers, and giving ‘energy’ back. It is, itself, all rather mechanistic and Isaac became more devotional as years went by, but I suspect his book of being an important influence at the opening of the 1970s. (Young folks should look up what a “switchboard” was ;).)

The idea passes directly into the minds of the founders of the Chaos Magick schools and related authors. It becomes central to their model of non-theistic occultism. It is now very popular among the self-constructed belief systems of internet magicians (bless us). The energy model is so unquestioned in the matter of ‘construct entities’; the magician creates a form in imagination, perhaps linking it to a material object, and then ‘ensouling it’… whatever that might mean. Many people seem to treat this approach as ‘proven science’ (i.e. obvious beliefs), though I think it falls well short of that standard.

This proposes, for me, a principle that might feel heretical to devotionalists and literalists, as well as to those who would make all magic about ‘energies’. It seems to me that, to a degree, pre-existing spirits will choose to inhabit an image and act in the theme of that image when it is in harmony with their own nature. In my metaphysical moments I think that, perhaps, spirits – despite having history and agency of their own - only assume names and forms when they come into relationship with mortals. Such names and forms may persist through human effort or through the preference of the spirit, and the world is full of spirits who do ‘go by’ a set of symbols, verbal or visual. We can conjure those, but the ancient magic shows us ways to conjure new spirits as well, learn new names, and even create new forms.

There is no such thing as ‘God’, in my opinion. No being ‘made’ us and thus no being has ownership of or sovereignty over us. Thus I am not inspired to imitate that notion by imagining that I can create a quasi-living spirit through imagination and will - a being which I can ‘command’ like a computer program or a machine, exploit at will, and destroy at the end of its utility.

This rejection of a modernist idea does not strip the magician of any useful power. Tradition provides several methods by which we can devise and specify what sort of small spirit, servant or emissary we desire. We can decide our intent, design a symbolic complex, and attract spirits that already exist to indwell our image and present us with a name and form. I think that when we call for a willing servant we often get one, though all the stories remind us that any spirit can turn contrary – even allegedly constructed ones.

As always for me the change from an energy paradigm of magic to a spirit-based paradigm is a change from the impersonal to the relational. I prefer a spiritual practice in which the love and honor between living beings is the core of the emotional work. This is not really possible when one approaches gods and spirits as ‘energies’ (especially if one thinks they are ‘just energies’). When we approach even a ‘hired’ ally such as an image-spirit as a living being, due it’s proper offering and thus proper respect, we choose a very different position of the heart. For those who care about such things, I might suggest that it helps put the ‘love’ into “Wisdom, Love & Power”.


Patchshorts said...

I think this is a narrow view. From the Arathavedas to the PGM, we have thaumaturgy alongside theurgy. The only thing I can greatly emphasise here is the propensity for our minds to want to simplify things and say that's the "real thing". But even if you look at rag trees in ireland, beings weren't always the source of the healing, sometimes it was good ol sympathetic attempts to generate reverse synchronicities.

The Professor said...

Thank you. This was very interesting. Can you point me toward any sources for more information on classical use of telesmatic images? I am familiar with the technique, but I didn't know that name for it before. My first-pass googling only turned up the Golden Dawn style usage.

Stephane Lavoie said...

I would say, our views on the subject are very similar.

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