‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ – Arthur C. Clarke
‘What the universe becomes depends on you’ – Henryk Skolimowski
Magic may not be what we think it is. In fact, it may be very much more. It may in fact be everything, and everything that is not magic simply is not. In other words, life itself is magic. Not only the miraculous nature of life itself (which is what it is when we come to think about it), but also the very process/act of life creation is itself a form of magic. We live in a world of magic today; without magic there would be nothing. So let’s be clear, I’m not talking about white doves flying out of long sleeves, rabbits jumping out of top hats, or sleight of hand card tricks. This is conjuring (or ‘party tricks’) and is as far away from genuine magic as a tasty meal is from the written menu. Rather, true magic is about the animation and power of the human soul. The ancient Egyptians knew this well.
For the ancient Egyptians magic was not so much seen as a series of human practices or rituals but rather as the essential energy that pervades the cosmos. It was an underlying pervasive energy that humans could access, activate, and potentially direct. The Egyptians understood this magic to be in the form of a god, named Heka, which represented the primal cosmic energy that permeated all levels of existence. It was an energy that animated the bodies of gods and humans, as well as the plants and the stones. Everything was thus instilled with this ‘magic,’ which was a spiritual energizing power. It was through Heka that things of the material plane could participate upon the spiritual. The spiritualizing force was also the conscious, animating energy. Heka – magic – also referred to the activation of a person’s soul. The Egyptians believed that one of the functions of magic was to activate the soul within the human body. As Jeremy Naydler notes,
The ancient Egyptians understood that to become enlightened one must become aware of that which is cosmic in one’s own nature. One must realize that there is something deep within human nature that is essentially not of this earth, but is a cosmic principle.1
This cosmic principle in one’s own nature was magic, or the underlying animating energy of the cosmos. In those times there was not the vocabulary that is extant today for observing and describing the cosmos. In the ancient past, which had a participatory understanding of the communion between humanity and the cosmos, language was couched in different terms. The Egyptians, for example, expressed themselves through the visual language of hieroglyphics. In this language the world of the human was inextricably bound with the world of the gods, and the otherworld. The deep animating force of the human soul came from a communion with the spiritualizing force of the cosmos. From their language, translated into our own, we know this as magic. Yet to them it was a different form of magic, and totally unlike that which we understand today. And yet if we look at the quirky weirdness of the quantum world, with its uncertainty principle and quantum entanglement, we are seeing the same form of magic that inspired the Egyptians. As the eminent science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke noted, any form of advanced technology is, to the observer, indistinguishable from magic. Magic is the mysterious glue that entangles, connects, communes, and also animates us from nothing to everything. Sacred creation and the creative sacred is the mirroring of the magical quantum collapse into being.
The knowledge of sacred magic, of the cosmic mysteries, was sought after by all of our known and most highly regarded historical philosophers. From Plato, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, Plotinus, and so on, such seekers of wisdom travelled widely and extensively in their time for the gaining and understanding of such knowledge. Upon their return, they then publicly preached and taught it. There was that which was allowed to be divulged in public, for the consumption of the masses, and then there were the Mystery Schools for those initiates deemed worthy of the deeper knowledge of the cosmos. Magic and natural philosophy were seen as aspects of the same stream of knowledge. It was about the science of material and non-material things; knowledge of the pure forms and secondary forms.
The great religious institutions also openly wrote accounts of the use of sacred magic. The biblical King Solomon was declared as proficient in the magical arts, and it is said that God bestowed upon him the knowledge of the ‘true science of things.’ In the Quran there are also numerous references to the existence of djinns and their magical, and often disruptive, influence. Magic is also connected to the cosmos and creation in many cultures, and in indigenous and so-called primitive tribes the world over. Some form of shamanic contact with the spirit world seems to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities. For millennia it has been known that ritual acts, language, and intention (mental focus) form a bridge of magical influence over forces within the universe. Magic is the art of participation, and the participatory art of communion with the forces around and within us.
The celebrated anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski argues that every person, no matter how primitive, uses both magic and science.2 Magical practices and religious observances are so similar in their approach in that they both employ the manipulation of symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness. Similarly, both magic and religion often serve the same function in a society. The difference is that magic is more about the personal connection with non-material forces, and the power of individual gnosis. In contrast, religion serves to connect both the individual and the community to a prescribed godhead through faith.
Magic in its original form is a practical extension of natural philosophy. Through observation and experimentation it sought to study, and then engage with, the hidden forces of Nature. It also sought for an understanding of the relations – the correspondences – between the macrocosm and the microcosm; that is, the ‘As Above, So Below’ communion as expressed through the Hermetic Arts. In this sense, magic can also be viewed as an amalgamation of science and religion (from Latin religare – to bind). That is, science seeks to understand whilst the religious impulse seeks to bind the human to the greater cosmic forces. Magic was a merging of the natural world with the human spirit. The investigation of Nature’s secrets, of the cosmic mysteries, was a spiritual quest long before it became seen as a scientific endeavour. As Giambattista della Porta, the 16th century Italian philosopher wrote, magic is ‘nothing else but the survey of the whole course of Nature.’3
The Renaissance zeitgeist, and especially its magical adherents and practitioners, experienced the world, the universe, in which they lived as a thriving intelligence, and not just as an intellectual idea. For them, art itself was a form and expression of magic; a means of channelling the secret patterns and energies of the cosmos into the world of matter. The famous German occultist and theologian Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486 – 1535) referred to magic as ‘the most perfect and chief Science, that sacred and sublimer kind of Phylosophy [philosophy]’4 The early Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino wrote that ‘The whole power of magic consists in love. The work of magic is the attraction of one thing by another because of a certain affinity of nature.’5 For Ficino, natural magic reflected a desire to animate human life with the living spirit of the cosmos. Magic then was a means for humanity to align itself with the living intelligence of the cosmos and to be able to receive its enhancing energies. In other words, it was a kind of cosmic connection and download. And when Arabic numerals (representing the Hindu-Arabic numeral system) – now our modern numbers – entered Europe from mainly Arabic thinkers, writers, and speakers they were adopted quickly by western occultists. In time these ‘uncanny squiggles’ came to replace the orderly roman numerals so beloved by government bureaucracy. The vital and dynamic era of renaissance magic was necessary in laying the foundations for the new Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.
In the 20th century the concept of magic was given bad press by its association with black magic, and the public rise of the ‘black magicians’ (or those of the Left-Hand Path). The most infamous of these was the Englishman Aleister Crowley, who preferred the spelling of magick. Yet despite his much-beloved public displays of anti-social eccentricity and taboo-breaking lewdness, he was a man of deep insight into magical operations. When communicating on a more profound level he would declare the true definition of magic as being ‘the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will.’ That is, Crowley used a form of mental and mystical/ spiritual discipline in order to train the mind to achieve greater focus to commune and participate with the non-material forces of the cosmos.
Even today various forms of magical practices have become merged with accepted psychological principles and are utilized to promote techniques for personal development. For example, the visualization techniques once widely used in magical operations are nowadays often put to use in such diverse areas as clinical psychology and sports training. Many forms of modern recreational health practices, such as yoga, tai chi, yiquan, and qigong, are based on a series of body posture, breathing, and meditation techniques that connect with the underlying energetic force/energy prevalent in the cosmic matrix that surrounds us and in which we are embedded. After all, magic is little more than the application of one’s own soul-self, our integral unity, with the cosmos. In other times this would be seen as mystical, magical, and mysterious. And now it is part of the world we are living in as the sacred revival rears its head from the non-visible to the visible plane once again.
Magic too can be viewed as being indistinguishable from our art, whether we are talking of painting, writing, music, sculpture, or any other form. Also, the word ‘technology’, which comes from the Greek word tekhne, means art or the ‘science of craft’ but not directly the application of science. Yet whether we are talking about magic, technology, art, or science, in the end it is all about the same thing – the exploratory path to knowledge and understanding. And this quest for understanding includes, and often merges, all such forms and pathways. We can say it all constitutes parts of the same body, just dressed up in different rags according to context, time and culture.
To be continued in pt. 2…
1 Naydler, J. (2009) The Future of the Ancient World: Essays on the History of Consciousness. Rochester, VT, Inner Traditions, p143
2 Maliowski, Bronisław (1954) Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays. New York: Anchor Books.
3 Cited in Fideler, D. (2014). Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence. Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions, p111
4 Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius. (1533) De occulta philosophia libri tres (Three Books Concerning Occult Philosophy). Publicly available online.
5 Cited in Fideler, D. (2014). Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence. Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions, p104
6 Cited in Harpur, P. (2009). The Philosophers’ Secret Fire: a history of the imagination. Glastonbury, The Squeeze Press, p135
7 Harpur, P. (2009). The Philosophers’ Secret Fire: a history of the imagination. Glastonbury, The Squeeze Press, p177
8 Cited in Skolimowski, H. (1993). A Sacred Place to Dwell: Living With Reverence Upon the Earth. Shaftesbury, Dorset, p82.
9 Skolimowski, H. (1993). A Sacred Place to Dwell: Living With Reverence Upon the Earth. Shaftesbury, Dorset, p81.
[i] As noted by Patrick Harpur in his The Philosophers’ Secret Fire, p171
[iii] The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (English – The European Organization for Nuclear Research)
[iv] A particle collider that lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres/17 miles in circumference beneath the France-Switzerland border.
[v] Three film versions have been made of Solaris; in 1968 (Boris Nirenburg), 1972 (Andrei Tarkovsky); and 2002 (Steven Soderbergh)
[vi] See The Self-Actualizing Cosmos: The Akasha Revolution in Science and Human Consciousness by Ervin Laszlo