The Art of Changing Consciousness.
In the war letters Dion Fortune makes three statements:
1. “It is the aim of both psychotherapy and initiation to bring about harmonisation between consciousness and sub-consciousness. Both methods of dealing with the human mind depend for their results on the same factor- the resources made available to the personality when this unification takes place. Initiation differs from psychoanalysis in that it carries the process a stage further and unites subconsciousness with cosmic consciousness; save for this, the two methods have more in common than either of them realises.”
2. “The powers of the macrocosm can only function in the world of men through the medium of men’s souls…through them the cosmic powers work.”
3. It is necessary to have a working knowledge of both psychology and the mysteries.
Dion Fortune was, as we know, part of the early days of psychoanalysis, but do these statements remain true today? This is what we shall be exploring in this piece. We will not be discussing Jungian theory, which is what most occultists are familiar with and what Dion Fortune recommended. I will be using the framework of the British or Independent School of Object Relations which I trained in, as a Psychoanalytical Psychotherapist, after qualifying in Clinical Psychology. The origins of this school were Freudian but, as the name implies, in true British style, they do their own thing. The status of these thoughts is that I am playing with ideas and seeing what comes of it. I should perhaps say from the outset that I am not here to apologise for Psychoanalysis (it would take too long, for a start!). Let’s start with some broad brush strokes.
It is very well known that Freud rejected a spiritual explanation of the human condition. What is perhaps less well-known is that, as a Jew (as indeed an astonishing proportion of the early Psychoanalysts were) he did acknowledge a respect for the mystical aspect of Judaism and had knowledge of Qabalah. Psychoanalysis, like Occultism, is concerned with acknowledging the hidden, and bringing other aspects of consciousness through to consciousness. As we know, it differs in where it sees the limits of consciousness. Psychoanalysis too, is a restorative endeavour, the aim being to relieve distress by allowing unseen aspects of the self-expression.
How does the personality get access to the resources referred to by Dion Fortune and what factors help it to make use of them? To paraphrase the Cosmic Doctrine, sentience is about reacting, and then registering the reaction. Development occurs by the means of experience and the subsequent processing and integration of these experiences. Consciousness develops dependent upon which plane it is on and what it does with the experience it encounters. So we change dependent on the external conditions, our adaptation to them, and our consequent analysis and integration of the experiences. There are many means, of course, of processing experience, and today I want to explore some of these. I think you will find these patterns familiar, but let’s see. I should perhaps say that there is much more to be said here. This piece will focus, on the whole, on the positive, active functions of consciousness as opposed to the receptive functions of consciousness which perhaps is for another day.
I want to start with thought: thought is a function that makes data available to consciousness. Dion Fortune knew that the ability to think clearly matters in the Mysteries. She knew that whilst the initiate must move beyond thought and into areas where knowledge of higher forms is obtained by symbols, when we want to convey the realisations of higher states of consciousness they must be crystalized into form, and for this we need thought and language. There is thus both a bottom-up and a top-down function of thoughts. From a bottom-up perspective they articulate the reflections and interpretations of sense data. From a top-down perspective they convey the realisations gathered from symbols from the higher realms.
What does Psychoanalysis have to say about the development of the capacity to use symbols and thought? Well, quite a lot. I would like to approach this by first describing how Psychoanalysis sees the key developmental tasks in the progression to health and maturity. For those interested, here I am largely drawing on the work of Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott, Hanna Segal and the much underestimated Scottish Analyst Ron Fairbairn. The key tasks are:
1. Separation, as opposed to merger with the Mother (where I speak of male and female here I am using them symbolically, not literally, recognising societal changes in parenting).
2. Then follows the Paranoid-schizoid position where the task is the integration of loving and hating images and the development of object constancy (that things continue to exist when we can’t see them). As we become aware of the ‘other’ we become aware that sometimes they meet our needs, and sometimes they don’t, and this one of the ways we realise we are separate. It is at this stage of development where we have the split good and bad mother, who is good when meeting needs, and bad when she is not. This is a dualistic, simplistic view of the world (which some people, by the way, do not progress beyond, and we see it manifest in phenomena such as racism). When we realise the ‘good’ and ‘bad’ Mother are one and the same we realise complexity, ambiguity, and ambivalence. This achievement has a profound effect on all aspects of mental life including thinking and symbol formation.
3. The recognition of figures other than the Mother which triggers an acknowledgement of and toleration of relationships between others that we are not part of: the famous oedipal situation.
At the first descent into matter in the womb, the developing foetus is in a state of almost complete merger with the Mother. The fundamental needs which are an inextricable part of this plane (sustenance, warmth, protection, relationship) are met arguably without it ever needing to be aware that it has those needs. Once born, during the first 1st 3-4 months of life the constraints of matter really begin to be experienced, beginning with the process of birth itself. What is seen as key is the way the baby manages the disruption and limitations that are inescapable features of birth and early life. So, the baby becomes aware of having a need, for example hunger. There follows the inevitable emotional response to this and a consequent increasing awareness of the space between self and other.
I want to take a moment to outline another key mechanism in processing experience in this model which is a precursor to thought:
1. Projection (impulses that can`t be held inside are propelled into others) (a bit like looking into a mirror at oneself, but not realizing it is a mirror).
2. Projective Identification (a deeper and more complex form of projection- where one person picks up feelings and thoughts of another). If I believe myself to be a very rational, tolerant person, but I meet someone to whom I take an instant dislike, then if I project, instead of being aware of my own, unwanted, instant dislike, I will believe that this unfortunate person dislikes me. The other person will be aware of something, but will perhaps not be sure how to interpret their experience. In projective identification, the other person will actually feel dislike for me: in other words, they become identified with the projection. My unwanted feeling has somehow, gotten right inside them. It is as though the mirror image becomes partly possessed by the person reflected.
There are many motivations for projection, but for the purposes of this piece it is a form of processing and communication beyond words or thought. It is a natural process; however if over-used, projection leads to a depletion of internal resources as vital parts of the self cannot be directly accessed. The other consequence is a distortion of the person being projected onto. Thus the implication is that the ability to learn by experience and the ability to distinguish between truth and falseness is compromised. In the Mystical Qabalah Dion Fortune quite correctly points out that we cannot distinguish between the IPA, or other discarnate beings and our own selves until: “we know what we mean by reality and have a clear line of demarcation between the subjective and the objective.” She also insightfully remarks that this is no simple matter. The development of the capacity to discriminate between subject and object originates in the ability to manage one’s own projections. Indeed one definition of psychological health is the ability to see beyond what we project. Projection of course, would not be a viable mechanism at all if we were truly separate and isolated beings.
The aim of analysis is to achieve integration by providing a relationship and a space within which projections are taken back, and within which the person can be held and can resolve their own conflicts and grow, in their own personal way. Winnicott and Bion refer to the concepts of ‘holding’ and ‘containing’ which refer to the maternal function of providing a secure place in which to hold projections, process them and return them in a more digestible form until the child develops this ability themselves. Consider for a moment the imperative cry of a newborn: the delicate state of mind of new parents is not just due to their own adjustment but to their receipt of the projections (i.e. communications) of the infant.
In the Mysteries those who overly rely on projection to manage their internal states will be disadvantaged. They will struggle to distinguish fancy from imagination and will struggle to realize truth and thus be unable to function effectively in those spheres where discrimination is one of the key tasks. However we should remember too that these mechanisms have an adaptive function as well as a potentially pathological function. In the Mysteries we need to be able to work with projection in order to work successfully in ritual. There must be an ability to receive projections. Arguably, as we are all human we can receive and become identified with any projection but I know from my clinical experience that this is not necessarily the case. There needs to be a part of our consciousness that can identify with that of the other. Without the ability to connect with another consciousness any therapy or any ritual will be hollow and ineffective: mind-stuff as we cannot meaningfully make the contact or complete the circuit. For success the therapist or magician must be able to identify with the projection. I should say, as an aside, that I do not wish to imply that the beings that we work with project parts of themselves as a pathological mechanism: this is evidently not so. Their projection of part of themselves is a conscious and purposeful endeavour.
I want to give a clinical example for the purpose of illustration (please excuse the personal disclosure; this is the stuff of psychoanalysis). I currently have a (very likeable) patient who was regularly abandoned at home as a baby by her Mother and was eventually taken into care. She longs for a good Mother who won’t leave her. As a Mother who knows what it is to lose a child I am very attuned to this need and at times the feeling is mutual. This is no bad thing: indeed it is critical for her recovery that I do feel this pull, but it is equally critical that I do not succumb to it and manage my own feelings as she also needs to be angry, to grieve and let go. I’m sure we can recognise a parallel process that occurs in ritual. In ritual we often intuitively know which of our companions might be able to mediate any given archetype (they also of course need to not become overwhelmed and over-identified). In psychotherapy this process that takes place on a lower arc, and must be worked out through the processing of projections, thoughts and feelings over months and sometimes years. In ritual it is more an intense ‘sharp shot’ of concentrated power that comes in on a higher arc and must then be integrated on this plane. Thinking back to Bion’s concept of the container, it should be evident why we need to be really strong containers in order to carry out our work without ill-effect.
Let us now return to the ability to work with symbols. One of the key factors here is the experience of inner space. Initially on this plane space is experienced in the body: in the mouth, the digestive spaces, and for females, the inner sexual and reproductive space. Then space is experienced in the opening between the self and the breast or the Mother. There is first an awareness of the gap, as we have already noted, followed by the psychic internalization of it from which the experience of inner psychic space begins to form. And then, as Donald Winnicott remarks: “…emptiness is a prerequisite for eagerness to gather in…before starting to fill up.” This inner space is filled with symbols which arise in the mind. For the individual, as well as for the cosmos, out of nothing, everything comes.
At first the infant’s desire for the breast brings the real breast, so initially the infant does not know it is separate until it learns that, through the limitations of matter and separation, it does not control the breast with its wishes. The repeated experience of space which is then fulfilled by the breast creates the conditions for the development of desire for the breast, and then a symbol of the breast which will eventually become a thought. We thus start with the breast, and move to an internal representation of it. For this development to occur there must be an ability to tolerate the emotion associated with ‘no breast’. If this capacity for tolerating frustration is compromised then what should be a symbol and then a thought becomes unbearable distress fit only for projection, and the development of symbolization and clear thinking is compromised. However assuming all goes well enough, out of the space arises a symbol and an inner experience.
This ability to tolerate frustration is largely seen as being dependent upon how the infant experiences the Mother or immediate care-giver. Winnicott speaks about the ‘ordinary good enough Mother’, who does not dominate or overwhelm the infant’s space, or conversely does not abandon the infant; (if no space, then no symbol can arise, and conversely too much space cannot be tolerated and therefore is projected and not experienced). The analytic method allows a boundaried space and experience of silence: this allows symbols and understanding to emerge from parts of the mind other than the conscious mind. The Analyst’s focus on the emerging symbols encourages this means of communication with the unconscious.
The other fundamental ability in the discovery of the internal world is the capacity to be alone, most eloquently described by Winnicott. For the small child, the key helpful experience is that of being alone, in the presence of the mother (unlike my patient described earlier who was actually very alone, but could not ‘be’ alone, and who uses alcohol and promiscuity to avoid this state). It is only when alone in this sense of being held that the infant can discover its own personal life and inner space. Many of us in the Mysteries walk a solitary path at certain points in our development. There are of course many reasons for this, but this offers one insight into why this should be, as we need more secure containment for the forces we work with. We are developing a container for the Individuality and contact with inner plane beings. Returning to the psychological mechanism of learning to be alone in the presence of another, this begs the question of which presence we are held in during this process. There is little doubt that this process is that of reaching inside and learning to be held within the Individuality and the Inner planes. Of course this mirrors the macrocosm, where all is held in the mind of God. In the War letters Dion Fortune says: “Until we know how to be still, mentally as well as physically, we cannot handle power; and until we know how to stand absolutely alone in perfect equilibrium and contentment, we cannot accomplish the works that are done in polarity.”
Symbolism comes to be the basis of the child’s relation to the outside world and it is the basis of communication with the internal world, with the unconscious and the super-conscious. In the mysteries our ability to work with the language of symbols is critical: Initiates and the IPA use symbols deliberately, the sorts of symbols we use dependent upon which sphere of consciousness we are operating in. Dion Fortune uses the metaphor which portrays the soul of man as being like a land-locked lagoon, connected to the sea by a submerged channel. She describes how this channel uses symbols to connect the individual mind with the Universal Mind. There are of course many symbol systems, notably the Tree but the mythologies that we work with are also links between the Universal Mind and the individual ego and here she says: “…magic (is) the method of inducing certain states of consciousness by the use of symbols, thus inducing a connective link between the two kinds of reality, the subjective and the objective…” The task here is to link the unconscious and the conscious in polarised function in order to yield super consciousness which is the goal of the initiate.
So let’s think about how we develop this capacity. In psychoanalytic terms this is about the oedipal situation: here I am largely drawing on the work of Ron Britton, John Steiner, and Dana Birksted-Breen who are prominent recent theorists. The Oedipal situation involves three people and the various relationships between them. It provides two links connecting the child separately with each parent and confronts him or her with the link between the parents which excludes the child. This three person situation creates a triangular space which forms a container and limiting boundary for the internal world within which the mind and the self can develop. It includes the ability to observe others and what happens between them as well as the recognition that one might also be being observed and thought about. Whilst this is a triangle as opposed to a sphere the three lines have, for me, clear parallels with the three circles described in the Cosmic Doctrine within which consciousness develops through the planes of existence.
I’m going to describe the oedipal situation a little differently to how you might have heard it spoken about before. This stage raises new questions for the child such as: why am I not included? What do they think of me? What do I think of them? What happens in that other space? What can I do about it? What happens in the world that I don’t know about? What comes from it? Through recognising the parental interaction and subsequently internalizing it there is the creation of an enlarged and contained mental space which allows for an emerging dialogue with the self. The ability to dream (as we recognise it as adults) usually comes with achievement of this state. Experiencing the parents thinking about the child, which is in turn internalized, gives the child a vantage point from which to reflect on the self. We’ve thought about the breast, so I now want to briefly consider the function of the penis in mental life. The penis, actually and symbolically, provides structure and the linking of the space between the parents. It brings triangulation: a link between the parents that has the potential to create the child and new consciousness. To think requires links to be made; it requires the ability to observe and bring things together in the mind. The internalisation of this function of the penis during the oedipal situation (all being well) expands the child’s ability to think and imagine. Much like the earlier description of the function of the breast, if this situation cannot be tolerated, for whatever reason, then the mental functions of linking and structure are compromised.
Where the parental link is not experienced as benign or creative then a number of problems may occur that impact adversely on thinking and symbolic functioning. Without this proper structure, the parents may be seen as a fused ‘one thing’ instead of two people meeting, where individuality is destroyed. Here, this may result in a fear of being consumed or overwhelmed leading to a tendency to be overwhelmed by or merge with the inner forces where the self is lost. There may be an inability to bring things together in the mind resulting in a lack of clarity in thinking, a lack of creativity or originality, or a sense of unreality or unfulfilment. There can be a quality of non-consummation in relationships and projects where things do not progress: they cannot be mentally conceived let alone born. The ability to form realisations will be compromised. The other tendency can be where things are brought together in an unhealthy way, where connections may be thrilling but dangerous resulting in internal explosiveness and disintegration (best avoided in magic!).
Now, dependent upon the individual nature of the oedipal resolution I would also suggest that the potential to bring through power will be affected because we are talking here about the ability to make powerful connections. This function, internalized via the perception and experience of the parental dynamic is fundamental to the ability to create a circuit and work safely and effectively with power. To bring through power, one must also be firmly established on this plane and able to connect and make a positive circuit. In my view, the oedipal resolution achieved by any individual thus impacts on many aspects of working magic.
Fortunately, those with difficulties in these areas usually have very impaired functioning in outer life, although it is perfectly possible for some to make it into groups. Of course we might all encounter these difficulties from time to time, or when our personality comes under strain. And it is this, alongside the impact on our tendency to use projection that we should consider if we are under stress and wondering if we can practice magic. Being upset and experiencing painful life events in and of themselves do not necessarily impact negatively on our ability to do magic; it is more the impact on our internal functioning that counts.
What is critical in the oedipal resolution is the distinction between the integration that comes after separation and object constancy is achieved and the premature fusion of elements that are not stabilized the union of which may produce an internal chaos. As an example for the trekkies amongst us, consider the difference between the assimilation of the Borg, and how this destroys individuality, as opposed to the unity and diversity of the United Federation of Planets which enhances the individuality of its members. The ideal is a structured but joined up internal world, where feelings, symbols and thoughts are ordered, separate, but connected to each other. There could, of course, be no transcendence without this as transcendence requires the sum of the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts. But for this to happen successfully the individual parts must be stable and complete.
I want to finish by briefly saying a little about the ability to make contact with the Higher Self. Dion Fortune says: “…the Individuality cannot play its part without the co-operation of the personality.” She goes on to explain that, in a nutshell: the individuality is positive in relation to the personality and negative towards its greater self. Before contact with the Higher Self is achieved the personality is in a bit of a muddle, thinking it is positive and alone whereas actually it is the receptive aspect of a partnership with other aspects of the self. It needs to be able to function on this plane and to realise that it is part of a greater Self. In the Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage Dion Fortune says: “The Personality is built up in order to enable the Individuality, which is formless, to acquire experience in the world of form…” If we think back to the concept of the container outlined earlier, we might say that the personality acts as a container for the individuality. I would suggest that there is sometimes a risk in the mysteries that we get preoccupied in relinquishing the personality (being a little provocative: like some aspects of exoteric religion become preoccupied with relinquishing the body). It is necessary of course, for the personality to recognise it is not the positive aspect of the self, and so relinquish its dominance of the self. However actually we are seeking happy and harmonious relationship between the different aspects of the self, and for the personality to be the best container and form possible for the Individuality to find expression in the manifesting world.
Returning to Dion Fortune’s opening statements from the war letters I hope I have conveyed in some small way the similarity of pattern between the occult and the psychological, and the value of a relationship between psychology and the mysteries.
Bion, W. (1962). A Theory of Thinking. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 110-119.
Birksted-Breen, D. (1996). Phallus, Penis and Mental Space. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 649-657.
Britton, R. F. (1989.). The Oedipus Complex Today: Clinical Implications. London: Karnac Books.
Fortune, D. (1930/1995). The Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage. London: SIL Trading.
Fortune, D. (1997). The Mystical Qabbalah. York Beach, Maine: Samuel Weiser.
Fortune, D. (2000). The Cosmic Doctrine. London.: Society of the Inner Light.
Fortune, D. (2012). The Magical Battle of Britain. Cheltenham: Skylight press.
Phillips, A. (1988). Winnicott. London: Fontana Press.
Adapted from the talk given at the Dion Fortune Seminar, Glastonbury 2016.