THE RATIONALE OF MAGIC

By DION FORTUNE

 

Originally published in London Forum, Volume 60, September 1934, pages 175 to 181

This contribution is the third of a series devoted to a consideration of Occultism from the Inside.  In dealing with the Rationale of Magic, Dion Fortune puts forward some challenging views, not only in connection with her definition of the subject, but also in regard to the relation of Magic to the subconscious self.

Part III

OCCULTISM can be divided into two aspects, the philosophical and the practical. The philosophical aspect consists of a body of doctrine relating to the nature, origin and development of the invisible reality behind appearances, and of an ethic based on that philosophy. The practical aspect consists of an empirical technique based upon a working hypothesis derived from this philosophy.

The theory, reduced to first principles and robbed of all verbiage, may be summarized as follows: that appearances, as we know them on the material plane, are the outward and visible signs of the activities of an inward and spiritual force, too subtle to be appreciated by our relatively obtuse physical senses; that matter is, to put it briefly, solidified spirit, and that, if we want to understand all the manifold appearances and activities of this physical world, we must seek the key in an understanding of the subtle realm of causation which emanates and conditions it.

This subtle world, in its turn, has its gradations, and the philosophical occultist does not conceive of spirit as emanating from matter in one stride, but of a development taking place by successive phases, the end result being matter as we know it. Neither does he conceive of the whole of the evolving substance as evolving en bloc, but as existing in all stages of development, from the simplest and most mutable, to the densest and most complex, and he believes that substance in all these different states of development goes to make up our earth, and the bodies and souls of the creatures upon it.

He has deduced and observed many laws concerning the nature and workings of manifesting existence that go far beyond the orthodox theories based on a materialistic, or at best a mathematical, method of approach. Upon these laws and theories are based a body of practice worked out in the light of experience, and by no manner of means all hocus pocus, so far as my observation has extended. This body of practice we will call by the general name of magic, for that is the name by which it is known throughout the tradition, both among the initiated and among the general public. I take leave, however, in applying the term magic to this body of practice and developed technique, to explain it and define it in my own way, which gives it a psychological interpretation, and in this I believe that I differ from the generally established definitions and understanding.

Eliphas Levi explains magic as the power to avail oneself of the properties of the subtle aether; Madame Blavatsky regards it as based upon a knowledge of the subtle properties of material objects and their relationship with certain active invisible forces. These two explanations have much in common, and may owe something to each other; but in any case they posit a hypothetical substance akin to the hypothetical ether of the physicist; and the only proof they can offer for the existence of this subtle substance is that phenomena occur "as if" it existed and possessed the properties they attribute to it.

Now this is a rather risky begging of the question. Both aether and ether may be useful working hypotheses, as a king of philosophical scaffolding that enables us to raise the arch of exact knowledge and hold it supported over space until the keystone is dropped into place, and all locked home by force of its own weight; but we must not that that either aether or ether has actual existence or is a proven fact; and material science is giving the occult philosopher an important lead in this respect, for, having used his ether to build up a physics which would have been impossible without the start it was enabled to make with the help of the etheric hypothesis, he is now discarding the ladder by which he climbed, and reducing ether to a mathematical conception of energy.  Reasoning by analogy, the presumption is that the occult philosopher will do the same with his aether when he knows a little more about it; but, learning from other peopleís experience, which is the royal road to knowledge, we shall feel justified in pushing the hypothesis of the subtle, magnetic aether to its utmost logical limits in order to make a start with the practical work of occultism, which will alone enable us to supply ourselves with the necessary body of experience and observation to enable us to draw conclusions and formulate general laws by inductive means.

But we are still, after this digression, without a satisfactory definition of magic; for in the light of what we have learnt by digressing, we see that both Eliphas Levi and Mme. Blavatsky are too naïve for our acceptance as guides and philosophers. Let us therefore consider what another writer on the subject has said.  Aleister Crowley has defined magic as the art of causing changes to occur in accordance with will.

This is a perfectly correct definition, only it is too comprehensive; for all the purposive activities of living creatures aim at causing changes to occur in accordance with will, and the fact that in this wicked world they all too often meet with disappointment does not invalidate the definition.  The amoeba that begins to project its viscid self in long processes towards some animalcule, is endeavouring to cause the change known as being eaten to occur in that animalcule in accordance with its will to have a meal.  The rigger of the market, who tries to bull the Stock Exchange, is endeavouring to cause changes to occur in accordance with his will; and the fact that the bears may have the best of it, and put him into bankruptcy, does not invalidate the argument, as immediately appears if he can obtain more capital, or even more credit.

Mr. Crowleyís definition sounds very philosophical to the unlettered, but it will not stand up under critical examination.

The general aim of magic (as far as I can gather from observations of what magicians do, and actions speak louder than words) is to cause changes to occur by means of the will alone over circumstances upon which the would-be magician has no direct means of control. That is to say, magic is intended to supply the missing link in a chain of cause and effect. For instance, a magician desires to injure or benefit a certain person; he has no means of access to that person, and could not do anything to him or for him if he had. So he performs a magical operation in the hope that that person will find himself either injured or benefited according to the nature of the operation.

Or the magician may desire to cause changes to occur in his own environment, which he believes will be beneficial to him. He has neither power nor authority to cause such changes to occur; he has not the slightest idea how they can be induced to occur, save by attributing various hypothetical powers to the already hypothetical aether; but he goes to work in a magical manner, using a technique which tradition, if not experience, affirms to be suitable to the occasion, and lo and behold, such changes sometimes occur-but more often, according to my observation, they do not. This leads us to believe that he is working with a definite and genuine force, the nature of which he does not understand. For after all, magic is a very ancient and universal art, and if it were always and altogether bunkum, as the enlightened world would have us believe, it would have been flung on the rubbish heap by disillusioned mankind before now. But when, having been driven out of the door as witchcraft, it flies in at the window as spiritualism, we must accept the fact that there cannot be quite so much smoke without some fire.

We must discard Mr. Crowleyís definition of magic, therefore, on the grounds that it is not sufficiently carefully drawn, but not on the ground that it is incorrect.  Magic is the art of causing changes to occur in accordance with the will; but how? And to what?

That is the question we have to answer in these pages.  How do the changes occur, and in what do they occur? These are the law and the prophets. In these we have the keys to the whole of occultism.

There are two ways of presenting an argument.  One can give oneís data, and then state one's conclusion, or one can state one's conclusion, and then proceed to explain and prove it. The former is the orthodox method, employed by all the best expositors; but I myself have a preference for the other method because I think that one can grasp the significance of a manís argument better if one knows what he is driving at, instead of having to wait until he has arrayed all his facts; for one is apt to miss their significance, through not appreciating their bearing on the argument. I am, in fact, one of those people who, in reading any book on philosophy, always turn to the last chapter first, and then start on the book; and I believe that there are many more like me than is generally suspected. Therefore in these pages I will reverse the established order of things, and give my conclusion first, and then proceed to explain it.

I define magic as the art of causing changes to take place in consciousness in accordance with will; and anyone who has any insight into their own states of mind will know that that is not nearly such a simple thing as it sounds; and anyone who can see beyond their own nose must see that such changes can have very far-reaching consequences.

Having defined magic to my own satisfaction, it is now necessary that I should answer the two questions which are posited as being the key to the whole situation.

So far as I can see, the will does not work directly upon circumstances and happenings, but indirectly. I have never seen direct and immediate objective results from magic, but I have seen a great many indirect and delayed results.

In the matter of results obtained from magic, we are confronted by a question of fact. What are the actual facts? What is the evidence? How has it been verified? This is a question to which it is exceedingly hard to obtain a satisfactory answer. I have never known magic to be done under test conditions, therefore the results alleged to be obtained cannot be accepted at their face value. Moreover, I have heard so many stories which, when examined by a few cursory questions, turned out to be the experiences of a friend of a friend, that I do not care to put forward any magical data, either of the East or the West, save what I have myself experienced.

The paucity of this material may be explained by the fact that I am a poor practitioner of magic, and that a better magician would get better results. I expect that all rival magicians in this city, so rich in strange gods, will declare that they get incomparably better results than I do; that they get the kind of results one reads about in Maria Edgeworthís highly coloured stories, but that, being of a very high grade of initiation, they are pledged to secrecy. Be that as it may. An ounce of evidence that one can examine is more useful than a pound of evidence that is wrapped in occult secrecy, though Heaven alone knows why it should be, if it can stand up to investigation. I am going to say a very nasty thing to my fellow occultists. It is my belief that any phenomena that could stand up to investigation would be trumpeted from the house-tops, and that they are the best judges of what had better not be exposed to the critical light of day.

It is my belief, after having worn out two pairs of ceremonial slippers in treading magical circles, that ceremonial magic works exceedingly powerfully upon the subconscious mind, and upon nothing else. In making that statement, have I supplied the enemies of occultism with as useful a piece of ammunition as anyone could desire? No, I have not; unless my statement is picked from its context in an illegitimate manner, for I am going to proceed forthwith to qualify it.  The subconscious mind possesses powers we little dream of, and these are released by working upon the imagination and heightening the emotion by means of the operations of ceremonial magic, which are expressly designed to that end.

And what are these subconscious powers of which we are so little aware? The simplest and commonest of them is telepathy. We are all telepathic to some extent, for we are all in varying degree sensitive to the moods of others, even without word spoken. We are also sensitive to the atmosphere left behind in rooms by the emotions and characters of their previous occupants. Consider what it would mean were this sensitivity greatly heightened and concentrated at will. Would not new worlds open up to us? This is one of the things that ceremonial magic does, and I will show how it is done in another article.

Then again, let us take the analogy of the physical body; it is made up of water and various chemicals, obtained from the food we eat, and if any of them be missing, it suffers from deficiency diseases, such as scurvy and rickets, which are immediately cured by supplementing the diet with what is lacking. So it is with the soul. Modern psychology teaches us that the mind of man is not all of one piece, but is made up of various levels of consciousness, with barriers between them. Deep down at the root of consciousness, there is the level of primitive mentation, which different schools of psychology call by different names.  But whatever they may call it, they all agree that it is the level of elemental energy. If the soul is cut off from any aspect of this elemental energy, it suffers from deficiency disease; being in varying degree incapacitated, it cannot adapt itself to life, and so finds life very difficult. Ceremonial magic aims, by means which I have already promised to discuss on a future page, at getting into touch with the different aspects of this archaic level of the mind or will, not merely piercing the barrier and permitting a chaotic uprush, as in psycho-analysis. It will readily be seen that if elemental energy, powerful but controlled, be released from consciousness at will, how the corresponding aspect of consciousness will be energized and stimulated into unaccustomed activity. It does not need very much imagination to see the far-reaching results of such a release of elemental energy, especially if it can be released selectively into channels prepared to receive it. It is the technique of ceremonial magic to do this, and I will explain presently how it is done.

The effects of such an influx of energy upon life and fate and circumstance cannot fail to be other than marked. This, in my opinion, is how magic works.  Thus, and not otherwise. How far-reaching these results are; how they can be controlled and directed, and what is the clear-cut distinction between "white" and "black" magic, I will endeavour to show upon another occasion.