Magick Without Metaphors

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Yvonne asks:

If “magick” itself is not working with “metaphors” and symbols, then what else is it?

There are two approaches to magick, broadly speaking.

One is to focus on sending your intent to your unconscious, and letting your unconscious work out the details. Since your unconscious works in symbol and metaphor, this style of magick will often work with symbols and metaphors, too.

The other is to focus on what your unconscious does after it gets those instructions — how does it actually cause change in the world — and work to make those processes conscious. This type of magick focuses on energies, connections, magickal structures, sending instructions to ethereal software, and lots of other things I talk about here.

I do the second type of magick. It involves essentially no symbols, and metaphors only come into play when I’m explaining it to other people, like how I consciously chose the terms “mental muscles” and “ethereal software” to conjure the right ideas in the listener. I already had the model based on directly working with those magickal structures, and only then decided what metaphor to use.

It’s hard to move from the first type to the second type. The first type trains you to focus on metaphors and goals, and to make yourself believe an idea it long enough for the magick to work. But this is disastrous for exploring what the unconscious actually does.

The difference is, when you’re just sending instructions to your unconscious, there’s no right answer. Whatever your unconscious responds to is right for you, and so you can pick basically any metaphor or symbol and it will work.

But when you’re talking about what the unconscious actually does to cause the changes in the world, there’s exactly one right answer. It actually does something, and your explanation is accurate in as much as it matches that things your mental muscles actually do.

If you pick a metaphor based on “how natural it sounds” rather than actual observations of how your mind is causing change, chances are the metaphor will be fairly far from what’s actually happening. You would have been better off starting with a blank slate and making observations.

The second half of this post — about how it’s hard to move from metaphors to implementation — was something I hadn’t realized before. I’ll probably come back to it later, but I’m curious to know your thoughts on it. Leave a comment below.

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9 Responses to “Magick Without Metaphors”

  1. Yvonne says:

    I feel that you are wading deeply into the waters of the psyche -figuratively and metaphorically, since the realm of the unconscious is ruled by the water element. Although I long to understand I am not qualified to respond intelligently, except to ask whether the idea of an “unconscious” itself is contested by the scientific materialists, and even if we grant the notion, the term symbolizes an immaterial concept. Where and what is this thing you call unconscious? In other words, you might be arguing against using metaphor and symbol to describe something that can only be theorized using metaphor and symbol. I guess I am having a hard time understanding this approach as you frame it as explanatory for a different kind of magick. I hope that someone smarter than I can clarify, using teeny tiny words – but no symbols, please!

    • The unconscious exists in standard psychology. Many physiological processes (your heartbeat, for example) are unconscious, and you can have unconscious urges or thoughts. Freud’s subconscious is largely discredited, but the simple concept of “you have thought processes you’re not aware of” is pretty widely accepted, as far as I know. (I got my BS in psych about 10 years ago.)

      In standard psychology, the unconscious is our subjective experience of our nerves firing and thinking. That’s basically the model I follow, too.

      Where magick comes in is: Our mental muscles — magickal structures, not physical objects, but definitely external things that any mage can interact with — connect to thinking mind, which connects to brain. Some parts of thinking mind go to conscious parts of the brain, and some to unconscious parts. If your mental muscles connect to a spot in thinking mind that ultimately goes to an unconscious part, then you will experience those mental muscles as an extension of your unconscious. And if your mental muscles connect to a spot in thinking mind that goes to a conscious part, then you’ll be able to experience those mental muscles consciously.

      Does that help?

  2. Ananael Qaa says:

    I’ve let this one slide a couple of times in previous posts, but this time I’m going to speak up. The “unconscious mind” that operates in “symbols and metaphors” is NOT part of standard psychology. It’s part of psychoanalytic theory, which is a century-old model of the mind that has been widely challenged by everyone from cognitive-behavioral theorists to neuroscientists.

    There are neural processes that go on without what we normally consider conscious awareness, and this is what I previously thought you might have been talking about so I gave you the benefit of the doubt. However, symbols and metaphors only have anything to do with those processes if you’re convinced that Freud’s model of the mind is correct. I am not, and that’s mostly because the research done over the last several decades suggests that the mind just doesn’t work that way.

    • If the unconscious doesn’t work via symbol and metaphor, what’s the reason for using symbols and metaphors in magick rituals? I thought what I described in this post was standard occult reasoning, and also thought that it mapped at least loosely to modern psychology. Could you enlighten me on the topic? (Especially since I don’t use symbols and metaphors like that in my work, so I haven’t researched it all that thoroughly.) Thanks!

  3. Yvonne says:

    “If your mental muscles connect to a spot in thinking mind that ultimately goes to an unconscious part, then you will experience those mental muscles as an extension of your unconscious. And if your mental muscles connect to a spot in thinking mind that goes to a conscious part, then you’ll be able to experience those mental muscles consciously.”

    Okay so you are saying using the “mental muscles” analogy that this kind of magickal practice allows you to be conscious (via experience) of the unconscious.

    But why is this more effective?

    • When you make unconscious things conscious, you can control them more precisely, which lets you experiment and refine techniques.

      When I learned ballroom dance, I learned to consciously control my posture, so I could move my torso without moving the rest of my body. That conscious control of just my torso muscles let me do dance moves that I couldn’t do otherwise. Same idea: By making your mental muscles conscious, you can direct them much more precisely, know exactly what they’re doing, and refine the actual procedure they use to cause the change in the world. In contrast, if you leave them unconscious, then you’re limited to sending them your intent and hoping that they already know how to turn that intent into effective changes, which they often don’t.

      By the way, this is pretty central to what I do, so please speak up if this isn’t making sense. It’s helpful to me to know where I’m not connecting, and where I need to explain things a little more thoroughly. Thanks.

  4. Ananael Qaa says:

    It would be more accurate to say that the idea of an unconscious mind that uses symbols and metaphors was part of standard psychology about sixty years ago, when the psychoanalytic schools still mostly ruled the discipline. Some of Aleister Crowley’s writings suggest a similar perspective to that found in psychoanalysis, but he died in 1947 and pretty much missed the rise of the behaviorist school. In my opinion there are a lot of more recent occultists who’ve elaborated on Crowley’s ideas along those lines, ignoring the fact that experimental psychology passed them by a couple of decades ago.

    In terms of how I used them, symbols and metaphors in magick are essentially mental handles for particular states of consciousness. You can think of them as mnemonic devices if you like. Remember back when I told you that I thought a person could practice magick using an arbitrary symbol set? That’s because it doesn’t matter what symbol you use for what state of consciousness in any objective sense, just that you can use the symbol to call up the state of consciousness at will. So, for example, if you’re doing a ritual corresponding to the Sphere of Jupiter and have trained yourself in the usual set of Western correspondences, you would use four blue candles arranged in your temple – because in that arrangement blue is the color of the sphere of Jupiter (Chesed) and four is its number.

    If you want to check out something interesting, see if you can find any material from the Church of Light by Elbert Benjamine, who used the pen name C.C. Zain and then compare the Qabalistic symbolism in that system to the one in Crowley’s 777. The two are radically different – you assign the planets to different spheres and they get different sets of numbers, colors, and so forth for most of them. But it’s not that one system is right and the other is wrong, rather that they are two different ways a magician can organize his or her mind. My great-grandmother was Church of Light, but since the first source on magick I studied in much depth was Crowley’s I wound up learning the 777 set instead. It works for me, and my great-grandmother found the Church of Light system just as useful.

    • Yvonne says:

      To put it in the most basic of terms, it seems that Ananael Qaa is emphasizing magickal processes as a way to “organize one’s mind,” versus Mike who is emphasizing magickal manifestation as the product of the unconscious mind – perhaps literally – is it mind itself?
      The “Church of Light” example is useful; Mike, can you provide any analogous systems for reference, or is it that your model is entirely original?

      I apologize if this conversation is getting too long, but I think that this gets to the nuts and bolts of what you are trying to accomplish on your blog, no?

  5. @Ananael: That makes a lot of sense. Crowley was a contemporary of Freud, understandably incorporated Freud’s ideas into his models, and magicians drawing on Crowley have incorporated Freud’s ideas into their work without realizing how modern psychology has moved on. You train your mind to associate a symbol with a particular mental posture, then use it to easily enter that posture. I like it. Thanks!

    @Yvonne: I think this is an excellent conversation, and really, conversations like this are my favorite part of blogging. I need few thousand words to answer you, though, so I’m going to write a series on my model of magick soon, after putting up a few one-off posts I have in the queue. Look for that next week.

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