In mainstream science, it’s well understood that progress proceeds through a process known as subsumption. Meaning, earlier and and more rudimentary understandings and processes are incorporated into the assumptions that later understandings and processes are founded upon.

Seems simple right? But in ‘magick’ this is often not the case. Often because of the ritualistic, culturally bounded, linguistically mediated, and internally subjective nature of the process. The tendency is to treat artifacts of occult knowledge as if they were unique items that arose out of nowhere and represented idiosyncratic keys to certain aspects of reality that cannot be generalised, reduced to first principles, or subsumed into new theories and injunctions. They are often treated as ‘loopholes’ in the normal fabric of reality that hold no larger implication to be investigated.

By all rights, an experience of some disembodied voice, or the ability to makes something happen by thinking about it, ought to inspire a whole chain of experiments and cultural dialogue to resolve it’s larger implications and build on that new understanding. But by and large, this doesn’t happen. In general the response of the ‘community’, to whatever extent one can be said to exist, is to look for better and better ways to exploit the inexplicable, but seldom to approach the fact of it’s apparent inexplicablity.

But really there’s no reason whatsoever to think this way. In fact, this is a symptom of what you could call atomistic thinking or ‘magical thinking’ in the way it’s usually meant, as in epistemically naive and superstitious. In societies that operate on this basis, for example, there is often a name for every bend in the river by which they live, but no name for the river itself.

Interestingly, in those same societies there is often a well developed body of shamanic knowledge that is continually being tested and refined by the segment of society that deals with it. The depth experiences of the shamanic class are continually integrated, interpreted, and shared amongst the community.

Which brings us to our third corner, which is the importance of integrating depth experiences into the discourse of the culture. This is, after all, how language evolves, and how it becomes possible to talk about things that are new. Without this, your experiences will always remain your experiences and while others may benefit from your understanding, without the communication of your depth experience at the highest possible level of fidelity, they will have no opportunity to replicate it themselves, and hence there is little chance of it being subsumed into the overall cultural progression of knowledge and skills.

This of course, brings up this issue of effective communication, which in this case is often a bucket brigade nightmare of translation difficulties.

First you have your subjective experience, then you have to represent it to yourself in some way, then you have to translate that representation into language, which someone else hears or reads, selectively filters through their presuppositions and expectations, represents to themselves in whatever way they can, and then perhaps acts upon, to repeat the cycle.

In light of all this, one could easily begin to think that developing a science and technology that incorporates exquisitely detailed internal representations and strives to replicate them across a certain educated class with perfect fidelity, is futile, even impossible.

Certainly, there are many many variables and hard- to- language nuances that exist in such matters as meditation, assuming different persona or thought forms, or attaining to different kinds of trance or gnostic state. But one need look no farther than something like the buddhist literature to find a millenia old documentary record of hundreds, even thousands of people’s experiences of meditation practice, and how it is broken down into absurdly discrete units of experience which can be the subjects of injunction.

Or, in something like martial arts, where one one must develop a level of feeling awareness of balance, space, and motion that to the average person borders on the unfathomable or absurd. This is almost entirely internal, and in many cases, even when there is an outwardly visible sign of such things, it’s happening too fast and too subtly to process in a visual way.

Are these things daunting to the point of frustration? Yes they are. Are they impossible? No. Can they be incorporated into language and made an object of cultural discourse, which is then built upon and refined? Emphatically, yes.

Part of the reason for this sad state of affairs is frankly down to a long history of persecution. Plain old materialist science had plenty of problems to begin with, never mind altering your internal workings, redefining the boundaries of souls, or upending the usual understanding of causality. So in many cases adepts were either starting from scratch, working with baroque codes and symbols that were meant to foil almost everyone, or reconstructing a whole tradition from fragmentary bits and pieces. And we still have all these problems today. To the point that it’s almost inconceivable that we might in fact be working within a coherent tradition, with a coherent history of development and progress, of experiments that fall in a discernible order of secession, subsumption, and evolution. From the modern perspective it looks like a bunch of puzzle pieces, with no box, and no big picture to work with.

But there’s no reason it needs to stay like that. Like I said before, these days, no one cares what you do, so the real project is to decipher the codes, reassemble the fragmentary tradition(s), and bring our personal experiments into the shared cultural dialogue, where we can sort out the language sufficiently to get a handle on what’s not apparent to the outer eyes and ears. Certainly there are some experiences that are impenetrable to language, but they are almost always surrounded by things that can be assimilated into words just fine. Yeah it’s hard, but working inside of a coherent tradition, with a coherent discourse, would sure take the load off a bit, wouldn’t it?

Otherwise, your most profound depth experiences will live and die with you alone. Which is a tragedy for us all.

5 thoughts on “Building a Better Brand: Back on the Rails

  1. ‘In prehistory people used to bargain with spirits for boons. Then they realised, no you don’t have to do that, you can just pray to the universal intelligence, and sometimes it would work. Then they realized, if you reintroduce some ritualistic elements you can get better results. Then someone figured out you don’t need any of that. Just a statement of intent and an altered state. And maybe you don’t even need that. I regularly have my intentions manifest without having to whack off over anything. I just clean up the ecology of my intentions, and state my wishes.’

    Isn’t this subsumption? I see no real difference between western magical culture and what happens in the tribal socities you mention, where :

    ‘…there is often a well developed body of shamanic knowledge that is continually being tested and refined by the segment of society that deals with it. The depth experiences of the shamanic class are continually integrated, interpreted, and shared amongst the community.’

    And also:

    ‘…your experiences will always remain your experiences and while others may benefit from your understanding, without the communication of your depth experience at the highest possible level of fidelity, they will have no opportunity to replicate it themselves…’

    Regarding the above, I believe this is exactly what has been addressed, in various fits and starts, over the last two hundred years of western magical ‘progress’; the most recent and obvious example being the advent of chaos magic.

  2. I will happily grant most of that, but the point that comes between the lines is that, if we take for example the manifestation of intent, we have (maybe) four paradigm ( and i’m using this in the more colloquial sense partly) shifts in the last 50 000 years or so, and i’m not sure some of those even represent real shifts, but rather sidetracks into various accretions of extraneous ritual.

    if you compare that to something like computing technology where we’ve had 5 paradigms in the last hundred years, and working on the sixth, and it was only invented in the first place a hundred years or so before that.

    if we extend that metaphor to ‘magick’ that would be like a bunch of people are still using vacuum tubes, a few still use looms and punch cards, quite a lot are using integrated circuits, with a smattering investigating something faster yet.

    to compound it, you have the thinking behind the technolgy, and the language concomitant, ocilitating randomly between babbage and lovace, to turing, von neuman, shannon and everything in between with little rhyme or reason.

    if you were to shift focus to the western technology for achieving altered states, the record is even worse, bordering on abysmally bad. in chaos magick it borders on the non-existant.

    it’s not enough to have isolated pockets of progress, that progress needs to integrated into a coherent succession, and oriented towards further discovery, rather than flogging the dead horse, or having massive regressions into more rudimentary levels of theory and practice.

    at least, insofar as we want to have a coherent community and direction, anyway. if people want to keep flogging the horse in the privacy of their own home, it’s no skin off my nose.

  3. I see the major paradigm shift in magickal thought over the past 5000 years has been the move from thinki
    A move from external sources of power to internal sources of power.

    From Nature worshiping shamanism to the catholic prayer to Medieval Magick to Aliester Crowley and then on to Chaos Magick, Richard Bandler, Tony Robbins and Derren Brown there has been a steady progrssion from external godfroms that are considered real (in every sense of the word) entities like another person, to modern understanding of magick that is post modern and near atheist in its perspective.

    Perhaps this taking of personal power shows us a way forward… what would be the next step in the progression.

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