Imaginal Reality: Voidcraft

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This is Volume Two of Imaginal Reality, a work that has been described as "The finest book on contemporary existential magic I've ever read" (George Holochwost, Magus (1), Illuminates of Thanateros).Readers will dive deeper into the imagination of magic and learn to develop the fictional gaze necessary to claim authority and authorship of their lives. This second volume contains an extensive glossary of over 300 scholarly entries on esotericism, existentialism, psychology, and the magical revival.This volume moves more explicitly into the practice of magic - that is, the ongoing journey of claiming our lives more fully and deeply. This cultivation of intentionality and vision, though never a one-time decisive victory, can become a more habitual attitude. To gird these hard-fought realizations, this volume presents the other four voids - Nothingness, Meaninglessness, Freedom and Responsibility, and Change and Finitude - in detail.

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Introduction to Volume Two: Aliens, The Alien, and Alienation

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How will we know when we make first contact with aliens? Surely our three pedestrian dimensions, together with our rigid temporality, rather limits our capacity to recognize entities for whom our spatiality may be merely a fickering, visible only in their periphery. Will we recognize the difference between their armor, spacesuits, and clothes, and their ‘bodies’ — should such a term even prove appropriate? What of their means of transport? Putting aside space-warping engines and eldritch gateways, what alterations of even our most fundamental means-of-knowing will be necessary in order for us to simply recognize their emergence into our world? And then, of course, there’s language. Or not! So fundamental is our inveiglement with the bald-faced lies of signs, references, and symbols, that we cannot conceive of any interaction with another sentience that does not fundamentally convey meaning. We are made of such misdirections, after all.

Hiding behind all these speculations is the far more pressing, but oddly dif-cult to answer, question: How do we recognize the alien here and now? Because, of course, the vast majority of the time we don’t. To whatever extent I am an ‘I’, I am a structured defense against the other, the alien. Volume One attempted to bring us closer to this consistently uncanny nature of the means by which our lives unfold. It promised a Journey to the Voids — both intimate and distant. Through becoming more familiar with the no-one in which our various ‘I-s’ emerge and dissipate, the text offered the reader the possibility of becoming less certain, but more free.

 

19. Mentoring: Images of Resistance and Realization

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I type away furiously on the keyboard. The ideas come fooding up and I am glad to be able to finally express them in this journal entry that is taking shape on the computer monitor glowing in front of me. The bluster of New England’s late autumn rattles the windows and gives the work a peculiarly Romantic gravitas. This is a liminal sort of moment for me. I fnd myself once more in-between, an apprentice, a novice — after all these years and experiences.

Serves me right. My travels (hopefully not tourism) through the worlds of religion, philosophy, mysticism, the occult, and magic left me always on the move. I was so bitterly disappointed by so many would-be gurus, teachers, and sages that I stayed in motion — propelled actually. A year in this practice, six months in that one. I gave them a chance, but soon I found that the nonsense outweighed the benefts for me. Money-grubbers, narcissists, and fakes abounded. Of those that seemed to have some value, they fell into three disillusioning camps: either they had no psychological insight but an overly earnest devotion to some school of magic or mysticism; or they were rooted in psychology but had merely a winking ‘magical realism’; or, basically, they showed themselves to be just plain nuts and without a redeeming sense of humor, although they were often admirably tenacious in their convictions.

 

20. Midword: A Summing-up-so-far

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If a work can have a foreword and an afterword, then it can also have a ‘midword.’ Volume One brought us halfway through the voids. With the preceding story’s hints at interweaving life and lived magic in mind, our journey through these aethyrs will start to accelerate from hereon out. Now that we have a sense of some of the core principles underlying this work, we have made a shift to looking at how our lives themselves unfold — that is, magic. These interconnections, nets of meaning, defenses, and longings propel us through lives that are mostly out of our control, regardless of the illusions of agency into which we may buy. Deliberate, intentional magic, as opposed to the unwitting worship of our quotidian ziggurats of images, is an audacious act, a Promethean act, and, for some, even a Luciferian act. We must defy the popular trances of ‘how things work’ in order to gain awareness of what has always been hiding in plain sight — actually in the very act of seeing itself. Nevertheless, this liberation is neither a permanent switch nor an isolated choice.

 

21. Magic

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Now we come to it: the crux of the matter; actually, the Crossroads — with all the attendant gods and goddesses from around the world who oversee this limi-nal space of in-between. The Crossroads always mean a choice, whether or not we call upon the Old Stranger to strike a pact. This chapter is no diferent, it poses us with the fundamental questions about how we will henceforth choose to live our lives.

We have the ideas. We see the cosmology. We understand how images constitute us, how they constitute our world, and how we see things in return. Now, what do we do about it? How do we go about the business of leading a life — of actually living? Not so much living-with-really-cool-ideas-floating-about-our-heads, which is a grand way to stay stuck in a life you don’t really want. But living in accord with how we realize life actually works.

Given the radically contingent and contextual nature of the imaginal reality we’ve described so far, simple ‘action’ is, actually, not so simple. The unconsid-ered images of life can so easily fool, mislead, program, or entrance us, to such an extent that we have no idea of what we are doing. We can be doing something quite diferent from what we think or say we are up to. Ideas such as ‘intention,’ ‘action,’ and ‘consequence’ are often epiphenomena — a surface froth above leviathan constitutive images.

 

22. Application 6 Magical Inventory

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If you have done any of the kind of magical journaling I described in the story about my mentors, then you are familiar with the idea of assessing the efcacy of your eforts — magical and otherwise. In some traditions, the term Book of Shadows applies to this personal diary, marking milestones in awareness and efcacy. This discipline is a vitally important habit since overt magical practice represents a level of audacity to which most people do not dare aspire. Thus, learning to look beyond your temple space, your church, or your management retreat, and into your life itself with a magical and ethical eye is essential. (Day-timer systems such as those proffered by the Franklin Covey Company adhere to the same principles.)

As should be apparent from this text, many formal magical practices are usually quite petty and ineffectual compared to the much greater spells in which we participate every second of our lives. Some of these spells are obvious: telecommunications, cartography, transportation, medicine, and so on. Other spells we cast upon ourselves are more subtle and arguably more pervasive, such as hope, ambition, and success, but also low self-worth, hostility, longing, despair, and so forth. Although we are apt to hold ‘individuals’ accountable for having such emotional stances, they do not occur in a vacuum. We live in a world soaked in overwhelming emotional solicitation. (Ever see a commercial that says you’re a good person, who needs nothing additional to make you happy, and, oh, have a nice day?)

 

23. Some Ideas about the Rituals of Life: Te Wheel of the Year

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A fine line separates compulsion and ritual. Even so, I think we can venture a litmus test. A compulsion is something we feel that we must do, and which renders us ‘less’ for having done it. A ritual should enhance, inspire, orient, organize, and carry us to a deeper and fuller living for having done it. By this defnition, of course, any given act could be either a compulsion or a ritual, depending on how the practitioner takes it up.

Our lives are — hopefully — ripe with meaningful routines, which heighten the pleasure and meaning of various experiences. Consider: the often elaborate rituals for mixing drinks or pouring a glass of wine; the physically intensive alchemy of baking bread (when not using a bread machine); or snuggling down to watch a film at home with just the right pillows, accompanying munchies, and beverages.

What if we were to approach traditionally less-pleasurable tasks with the same ritual glee? What if balancing the checkbook and paying bills involved a favorite pen, appropriate incense, and the occasional check-in with long-term fnancial goals and their accompanying patron deities? (…as well as spreadsheets and calculators — or maybe an abacus.) In today’s technology-intensive world, uploading new software or defragmenting and virus checking a hard-drive may well have far deeper resonances than any traditional ritual for renewal or cleansing. Our dreams make use of such symbols, why shouldn’t our rituals?

 

24. A Young Lutheran Struggles with Prayer: Images of Devotion

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I sit in a church basement classroom with a dozen or more other young Lutherans. The smell of oil soap permeates everything. We are all teenagers, 16 or 17 years old. For some reason, no Sunday School Teacher guides today’s unfolding discussion on prayer.

Four years previously, just before beginning catechism, I started reading the Victorian Freemasonic books my grandfather left after his death. Someone should, I suppose, have returned them to a Lodge, but, in the tumult after his death, far more pressing issues arose. These leather-bound tomes proved rife with the creative mix of myth and quasi-history that constitutes the Masonic allegorical cosmology. My head spun with images of Hiram Abif, Tubal Cain, and mysterious rituals hinted about or expressed in cryptic short-hand. With some persistence, I got past the hyperbole and learned about the Qabalah, Gnosticism, and Deism — or at least the Masonic scholars’ glosses on them. Out of this esoteric crazy quilt of Templars, Assassins, Egyptians, Hebrew Tribes, Revolutionaries, and Medieval Guilds, one particular idea slowly bored its way into my mind: The Inefability and Absolute Perfection of Ultimate Divinity. Combined with readings from New Age authors, Christian Science, Taoism, and my own curiously zealous and pious approach to Christianity, this doctrine of a Changeless and Perfect Principle of All Creation sizzled through my head — a long fuse in search of a hidden store of explosives.

 

25. Why Magic?

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As I noted in the story above, many people, perhaps most of us, are in a child/ parent, boss/subordinate, or even pet/owner relationship with our realities. We keep waiting to see what we’ll be given, almost as though we want to fnd out whether or not we deserve the things we want by being given them. Whether or not our parent/owner is a god or goddess, the Tao, karma, the Universe, our Will, or any other reifed concept, the relationship is fawed. Job applicants and the prayerful alike both fall prey to a strange combination of the fundamental attribution error and the actor-observer bias in which they let their circumstances determine their worth. We are so used to a seemingly random world or our own contrived explanations that we conspicuously avoid actually assessing our own eforts, culpability, and efcacy.

Waiting to see if we deserve our will is like the lover who won’t ask for what he or she wants and remains perpetually resentful and frustrated. We see again and again that the prize goes to those who try. If you want something, do something! (And assess your outcomes, then do it again with innovations based on your observations, then assess again, and innovate again …)

 

26. Application 7: Corporate Logo Contemplation

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Corporate logos are incredibly powerful sigils. At their best, they are seamless integrations of intention, representation, and action. (At their worst, each of these vectors moves in its own direction and yields a logo that is more of a cipher for a vast corporate unconscious.) Multi-millions of dollars, pounds, euros, yen, and rubles worth of focus-groups, design frms, branding, and executive whim go into each stroke of what the corporation hopes will become an iconic sigil. The best ones are recognizable on a subliminal level — that is, consumers need not engage in any higher cognitive processing in order to recognize and orient their behavior in response to this symbol.

Grant Morrison does a fne job of highlighting this phenomenon with his term ‘hypersigils’, and this idea is well known to archetypal psychologists. Consider McDonald’s, Mitsubishi, Apple, American Airlines, Starbucks, Microsoft and a host of other multinational corporate entities who need only show you a color palate or typeface for you to recognize their branding. You might not even need to know anything about the company in order to learn something about it simply from a well-crafted logo.

 

27. Of the Amish and DeMolay: Images of Engaged Living

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The old Amish man and I walk down a grassy hill. It seems insulting to use the word ‘spry’ to depict him, but few words exist to describe his aged agility. At this point, he is in his late 90s and I am 14. We stepped out of the sugar maple woods that separate the farm from the gravel road to fnd the late February afternoon sky clearing. We had been checking the taps on the trees. This will be the last year that they use the sugar shack to make syrup.

The ground is muddy and we squish our way down to the dirt lane that leads up to the house. For several years, I have spent one day a month with this Amish extended family. It will be several more years before I realize how unusual these experiences have been and how lucky I am to have had them. Regardless, I enjoy the time.

The previous summer, I get my first buggy ride. The family has a boy about my age, and he received the first wagon of his own the day before we arrived. He is visibly proud. We hook up the horse and climb onto the plank that passes for a seat.

 

28. Nothingness: Te Fifth Void

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So-called ‘objectivity’ is a labor-intensive process in which we (dis)animate our world into thing-like entities possessed of a dead (but reassuring) permanence. This procedure yields an absurdity that we can only deny with strenuous efort — but succeed at with a liberal application of booze, distractions, scientis-tic technobabble, and the hope of sex.

The journey toward appreciating the reality of nothingness begins with the fundamental shift away from a reality built on what we observe, toward a focus on the immediate reality that we observe — that we are, in fact, simultaneously in the acts of observing and cobbling together our lived world.

Experience is not… is nothing… is not a thing; and, as any Chaos Mage will tell you, nothing is true. (The phrase ‘Nothing is True, Everything is Permissible’ is popularly attributed to Hassan i-Sabbah, the richly storied founder of the ‘assassins.’ Although sources as far back as the 14th and 15th centuries — in particular, the Egyptian historian Al Maqriti (1364-1442) — link this saying to some leader of this Islamic secret brotherhood, the persistence of the myth in the imagination of magic is now far more important than its origins. Nietzsche quotes it, having likely read it in the work Die Assassinen (1818) by Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall. Thus, by the mid-20th century, it had become a password in secret societies seeking to hearken to the heretical, deadly, and ‘orientalist’ resonances of this now-mythic order. The Chaos Magical order, the IOT, adopted it as a motto and, today, gamers the world around know the phrase from the Assassin’s Creed series of videogames. Regardless of provenance, that this phrase has multiple layers and potentials for meaning is frequently lost in a haze of antinomian fantasies.)

 

29. Application 8: Multi-Modal Ritual Construction

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In order to effect a return to the moment, rather than face the painful consequences of resisting nothingness, we must reacquaint ourselves with experience itself — the sensuality, the immersion, and the richness of every unfolding instant of life. When lost in ‘things,’ perception becomes a mere machine that may be accurate or inaccurate. But with a reawakening to experience we become acutely aware that, rather than a regrettable mediator between subject and object, ‘perception’ is the very essence of reality. Not the subjectivist or solipsistic nightmare of ‘everything is whatever we make it’; but the imaginal fow of shifting fictions that gives birth to, and subsumes, subjects and objects at every instant.

The best rituals absorb us in all the senses. Although a dominantly visual species, we still operate through the many other senses. Vision, audition, gustation, olfaction, and tactition all integrate seamlessly with proprioception, kinesthesia and the vestibular senses. In the brutal efciency of a mass-production world, the philosophy of ‘function over form’ has too long focused on what blueprints look like, rather than the realization that, for a sensorially integrated creature, form is a function. As a species, humans absorb and record the overall tone of situations. Thus, no particular sense can successfully substitute for the gestalts in which we operate.

 

30. Marching Until All is in Shatters: Images of Decimation

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Munich. A spring evening in the early 1990s. Munich Bayern just beat Liverpool in ‘fußball’ and the Marienplatz is a sea of ecstatic Bavarians.

I am one of a group of 16 undergraduates on a Grand Tour of Europe. We have each come for our own reasons; but, primarily, I think the ‘wouldn’t it be cool to spend a semester in Europe?’ reason dominates. I am still victim to a version of this, in the form of ‘everything about Europe is amazingly cooler than America.’ This impression endures until, several weeks later, I have to run for my life from street punks at two in the morning in Rome. To a certain extent, the whole trip is a sort of running — hoping that the new sights, sounds, and favors will drive away the agitated depression that has increasingly dogged me throughout my senior year.

After a long day of train travel from Amsterdam, we are all a bit shell-shocked to be in the thick of this throng. One of our three professors-cum-chaperones has decided to take us on a late evening tour — more of a ‘forced march really — of Munich’s historic central pedestrian artery.

 

31. Meaninglessness: The Sixth Void

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The world is, unto itself, purposeless and completely devoid of any inherent meaning.

Have a nice day!

Come on, though, you all knew this one, right? You understood that you had to come up with a completely bizarre rats’ nest of implausible, make-believe suppositions that became increasingly experience-distant in order to give the world a meaning unto itself, right? Right?

It just feels diferent when you start dissociating into ‘spirituality’ or ‘materiality’ or whatever other elephantine scatology you use to try and bankrupt the moment. That whole distant ache of angst that tells you, ‘whoa, I feel wrong in such a deep way that I don’t think I know what “right” feels like anymore.’ That’s the same sensation that tells devotees of the imagination of magic that they had best chase after some supernatural explanation, get another initiatory degree in the hierarchy of The Sublime Order of the Goat-worshipping-Templars, or engage in another bracing spate of ‘chemognosis’ for this life to work for just a little bit longer.

 

32. Application 9 Your Name

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When entering into the imagination of magic, it is common for practitioners to take on a magical name of some sort. (This is just as common with conversion to or rites of passage within religious communities.) There’s a wide range of means used to create these names. Some are a reffection of aspirations, others come from a defning moment, still others are wordplay based on magical mottos — much as Niel Estes’ name came from nihil veritas est. Unfortunately, as personal as these names may be, many magical types seem stuck in the hackneyed argot of fantasy and gothic romance novels with creations such as ‘Lady Trifenia Treesi-lver,’ ‘Lord Darkling Sanguinius,’ and ‘Sheepjuggler the Oathwelder.’ (Which would be fne if these people lived in those realms; but I worry that these overblown monikers simply help them to perpetually feel disappointed that their ears aren’t quite pointy enough to pass for an elf.)

In addition to taking on magical mottos and names, many mages create some sort of sigil to represent their magical selves and aspirations. This is all well and good when the mage in question is still trying to stoke the fres of those non-mundane parts of themselves that they partition of from day-to-day life. Of course, in the process, the rest of the mage becomes increasingly banal. This particular disconnect can continue forever or until mages finally reach a crisis in which they realize that they haven’t done a damned thing about their life but have succeeded in becoming the high priest(ess) of a bunch of other maladjusted messes — or garnering a daunting accumulation of experience points in an MMORPG.

 

33. My Father’s Erasable Pen: Te Core Image

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Armchair psychoanalysts always search for one defning moment in the childhood of newsmakers or historical figures by which they can explain all the trials and triumphs of that person’s life. Frankly we all grunt a satisfed, ‘aha!’ when we hear of that particular trauma at age seven, or of the death of a parent, or of some other formative challenge the child overcame, such as polio, or pleurisy, or the loss of a limb.

Film, television, and literature bank on this conceit. Many of us can tolerate clunky storytelling and shallow characters so long as we slowly approach that one salient detail, that crucial moment, the revelation of which, just at the story’s climax, provides us with a satisfying catharsis.

Any psychotherapist worth his or her salt knows that this idea is ridiculous in the extreme. Holding onto this idea is actually dangerous for a mental health professional. They can fnd themselves undertaking what I bemoan to future therapists as ‘archeological expeditions’ or ‘fishing trips.’ The danger is that we miss the life that the patient lives right now. The past can so easily occlude the present. This is not to say that clients don’t sincerely believe that some single event defines them. Many do. Moreover, one particular moment may poignantly sum up a whole series of events in such a way that only this snapshot is necessary to convey the whole story. But, in the end, no single episode makes us who we are.

 

34. Freedom and Responsibility: The Seventh Void

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In each unfolding moment, we define existence by the choices we make in relationship to our lived world. Again, various prepackaged ‘causalities’ may attempt to protect us from the terror of complete responsibility for our lives. Of course, a narrow sense of ‘consequences’ might emerge from our choices. Moreover, other people react to our decisions and we often do not achieve our imagined ends. Nevertheless, claiming our freedom and ferreting out the specters of ‘inevitability,’ ‘restriction,’ and the myriad ways we hand to others responsibility for our feelings, actions, thoughts, or choices is an ongoing struggle. Nonetheless, whether we simply claim our freedom or exercise it to its fullest, we are still accountable to the reality of each moment.

Responsibility is not about ‘culpability.’ Responsibility centers on the process of acknowledging the world in which we fnd ourselves. Etymologically, the word, in this sense, is about responding to life as it is, rather than the various limited perspectives that entrapping fictions may offer us. Only with some apprehension of life-as-lived can we actually be free to act, rather than react. Only through properly calibrated responsiveness can we be our own most unfolding selves, rather than playing prescribed roles. Thus, freedom and responsibility inexorably form the foundation of all authentic choice and action.

 

35. Application 10 Glossographia

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Our lives are texts, intersections of texts, expressed through generative texts, and saturated with intertextual references. Where no words or symbols exist, we co-create them. We, those meaning-makers who are made of meaning, drown in letters, words, and phrases whose signification, far from being fixed, drifts with each use toward unknown seas of reference. (I have always imagined that this intertextuality is why so many of Tom Stoppard’s works bear the visual signature of pages blowing across the stage.)

Have you ever noticed the strange autochthonous languages that surround us? The bold ancient Asiatic lines of Worm-eaten-woodish? The delicate arabesques of Branching-spring-buddian? Perhaps the Pali resonances of Upper-storm-cloud? We see stories in stucco, countenances in concrete, and wildernesses in water-stained walls. Grafti and corrosion confront us with a secret language more alive with gravitas than any occult alphabet. Rather than merely ‘projecting’ onto these ciphers, are we not really intersecting with a lived world awash in meaning vectors?

 

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