Carl McColman has a list of questions that have bothered him for some time. This is my attempt to answer them.
If these answers make no sense, please forgive me since I’m on drugs for my back. His questions are marked by a * in front.
Okay, here’s the list…
* What is the difference between magic and science? Can such a distinction be measured or otherwise quantified?
Magick is the name for processes we don’t understand. Germination of a seed, the formation of tornadoes, how a huricane forms, the growth of mountains. Science is the term for that which we understand well enough to predict with a fair degree of accuracy what is going to happen and how to cause it to happen.
* How does magic make a person’s life better?
It keeps a sense of wonder in the mind and soul. If everything was explained, there would be no need for things like trust, faith, hope, fantasy or any other emotion that helps us get through life with our minds and souls intact.
* How does magic create a saner, healthier, better society?
It gives the mystics something to excel at. When magick was forbidden or evil, they wound up in the Church as priests. All kidding asside, that’s where I would be now if it were back in the 1100’s CE. I really don’t like the Church just on principle.
* How does magic benefit squibs and mugglesâ€”that is to say, people who lack magical ability, or who don’t want anything to do with magic?
It doesn’t. But it does not harm them either.
* Is there a viable form of Paganism that does not include magic?
I think a better question is “Is there a viable form of religion that doesn’t include magic?”. To which my answer is “no, there is not”.
The Recons will tell you to your face that they are, while classed Pagan, not a religion. Ergo there is no magick in their way. The Satanists say that there is magick in their way and that further they are a religion. The SCA has no magick in their way, and they are not a religion. Each religion does not have magick, and each thing without magick as a component (even if it is a small component) is a religion. I can’t think of any religions that don’t have magick as part of their philosophy.
That’s because magick is part and parcel of mystery trads. We don’t know how Jesus resurrected himself. Thus it is a miracle and a mystery, and therefore it is magick. I don’t know what visions Odin had on the Tree of Life, and thus that is a Mystery. I don’t know what monster it was that kept stealing the horses from the farmer who found Pryderi and raised him, nor do I know how a little bag would fit a man inside it to play “badger in a bag”, and those are mysteries.
But while I also don’t know how the ancient Celts made arrowheads without flint, with enough research I can find out, thus it is not a mystery.
See the point and the difference here? But that’s me.
* Chaos magic is the most “postmodern” form of magic. Its creed is “nothing is true, everything is permitted.” I see this is nihilistic libertarianism. Am I on to something, or am I missing something? I also think it is ethically dangerous. Thoughts anyone, pro or con?
As a chaos magickian myself, you are missing a hell of a lot. It’s not nhilistic at all, it’s more a pragmatists form of magick. “If it works, it must be true.” would be closer to the credo. Humans create all the time, from thoughts to dreams to fantasys and so on. Using those creations give it power and the more people who believe in a complete fabrication, the more power it has. Thus you have thougthforms and you have an adversary called “Satan” where there was not one before.
The base premise is the same ones explored by Richard Bach in “One” and in “Illusions”. This world is not the reality. Thus what we do here, while affecting those things here, don’t really affect the real world of the spirit beyond this one. Thus “nothing is true” is true in that all we see and interact with is not real, and “all is permitted” in that you can do anything you want for this is only a child’s game to learn from.
For those reading, this is a set of very advanced concepts and it’s based on the premise that we are spiritual beings who have agreed to obey the rules of Life for a while so we can learn specific lessons. It’s a school, literally. Death doesn’t exist (it’s summer vacation), trials are ephemeral (they are tests and pop-quizes to see how well we have learned our lessons) and so on. I could go on for a long time on this analogy.
Ethics in this case are sticky. The over all overriding ethics are not affected, it’s only when you look at the ethics in the context of THIS game that the attitudes promoted by chaos magick are violated. And those ethics are just restatements of the “rules” we agreed to limit ourselves with.
I feel like scolding you at this point for missing this HUGE basic premise. I feel like saying “comeon, Carl, you KNOW this….”
* Why should we believe the claims of Witches who say they hold a longstanding lineage, especially in the light of scholars like Ronald Hutton whose work strongly suggests that many so called Witches are frauds?
Personally I take claims like that with a grain of salt. Once again, Wicca is not Witchcraft. Wicca is 60 or so years old, Witchcraft does go back a long time and can be traced back. The Witchcraft part of it is passed from mother to daughter, father to son, and so on. I learned some witchcraft from my grandmother, just as my wife did. BUT while they practiced elements of witchcraft, they were not witches, nor did they have a lineage.
So while it’s possible to be a lineaged witch going back several centuries, if they start spouting things like the Rede or “ecko ecko Azarak” I start getting out since they have confused Wicca with witchcraft again.
* What is the difference between secrets and mysteries?
A secret is a knowledge you hold as private. A Mystery is something that the Gods hold as private and only reveal through UPGs.
* Why are oaths of secrecy so important to initiation?
I see them for a couple reasons. One is that they set the people apart from the rest of humanity. A mason is a mason because of what he knows and does not share with others unless they are also masons. A bricklayer can know the SAME things that a Mason knows, but without those oaths of secrecy, the bricklayer is not a Mason.
It also causes a consciousness shift. You go into the ritual blind, not knowing if you are going to be asked to swear your spouse away, and that causes anxiety. You will not know until you are in the middle of this what the specific oath is, and if you say yes, you are honor bound at that point to keep it. That puts you in a heightened state of awareness simply because it’s there.
It is also a test of trustworthiness. I tell you the secret password for our club. You tell another. I can’t trust you with the secrets I would normally be likely to share during the course of being best friends now, and you will never know.
* Christianity teaches that those who do not receive Christian initiation (i.e. baptism, being “saved”, the Eucharist, etc.) are at greater risk of not receiving the Beatific Vision. What do Pagans and ceremonial magicians believe is at stake with their initiations? In other words, what do those who don’t get initiated miss out on?
I don’t know many CMs, but I don’t think they get initiated per se. I think they are based on ability, but I could be mistaken as you know.
For me, as a Pagan, Druid and Chaos Magickian, not being initiated can mean that I miss out on the social aspects of the group, also validation and reality checks.
Social aspects should be self explanitory, but in case it’s not, let me sum up…. An initiation is there to connect the individual to the group. Until you go through it, you are not a part of the group and there will be parts you are not invited to and can’t participate in. Once initiated, you have full access and you don’t have to wonder anymore what they were talking about when you came by.
Reality checks and validation: I have a vision. I can talk about it with others, but more than likely a lot of them will be saying “I don’t know…” But if I have that same vision while initiated, I can go to an Elder and talk to them about it, and there is a good chance that they had something similar happen to them or someone they know. Thus I can find out if I’m insane or gifted. I might be able to get that on my own, but it’s more likely that if I had the same vision without being in a group that I would pass it off as nothing.
* Does objective truth exist? Objective right and wrong? If the answer is yes, then how do we find it? If the answer is no, then what holds society together?
It depends, entirely, on what context you are talking about.
If it’s the context of the game we are playing, then yes, objective truth exists in the form of the rules we agreed to when we came here. Physics, human nature, psychology and so on .
If you are talking about the context of the worlds beyond this one, then I say no, Objective truths do not exist.
What holds society together? This reality, the objective truths that I spoke about earlier, if in the beyond then only our self discipline and will can or should count.
* What is the relationship between myth and truth (if truth can be said to exist)?
Give that “if” you specify, the relationship is that myth illustrates truth when the truth cannot be directly spoken of or explained.
* What is the relationship between power and responsibility? Is there a place for noblesse oblige in the world of magical ethics? On what grounds?
Spidey’s call: “With great power comes great responsibility.” Simply because we have the ability to change the world with a thought and an exercise of will, we are totally responsible for the effects and outcome from that. No escaping.
Noblesse oblige is a requirment in magick and ethics of magick. I have a student, I teach him. He goes off and casts spells. Because I taught him, I am just as responsible for what happens as he is, although not the primary responsible one. Noblesse oblige will demand that if he screws up that I fix it or help fix it. I can’t shield him from his lesson, but I am almost required to fix what happened in terms of the rest of the world. It’s responsibility again.
* Postmodern philosophy suggests that the only truth that exists is the truth found within; i.e., subjective truth. What kind of society can we truly expect to build in a world where only subjective truth is real?
Once again, you are focussing on the world of here and now, the game. That statement only holds when it is applied to the Otherworlds and the life we live there. THOSE truths are completely subjective. When applied to a higher self (as philosophers do) then that holds up, when applied to the world in general, then they collapse like the house of cards they are.
* What is the difference between magic and mysticism? Hint: I think the answer to this question lies in the difference between Iamblichus and Pseudo-Dionysius.
Magick is the practice of mysticism. Mysticism is being a mystic. One is a state, one is a process.
* Many spiritually minded people in our post-modern world are karmic reincarnationists, which is to say, they believe in past/future lives, with an ethical component that suggests our choices (for good or ill) will have consequences for us at some point in the future. Where do reincarnation and karma lead us, ultimately? Is there some form of eternal paradise? Is death ultimately final (say, when the universe implodes)? Or will the cycle simply repeat indefinitely, eternally?
The cycle repeats until you choose not to repeat it. Once you have learned that which you wised to learn, then the cycle stops.
I, personnally, don’t believe in Karma.
Death is going to the showers after a hard day at the office. That’s all it is. The soul cannot be destroyed.
I do believe in a overriding consciousness, but I feel it’s more like the “Great Link” from Deep Space 9 than anything else. At any point we can combine with that consciousness, but we retain our individual identity and can separate at any point. But we make our learning available to all, and all make their knowledge and experience available to us.
The choices we make may or may not have an effect on us, but I believe they do so only to the point of passing or failing the challenges or tests we set ourselves up for. And if we failed, then we may have to take that lesson and test over again. THAT is karma to me.
* Is there only one soul, and all beings are refracted manifestations of that essential one? Or are there infinite discrete beings? Or a finite number of discrete beings, who live cyclical lives over the course of time?
There is one soul we are all part of. There are multiple souls that are part of each other. The finite number of beings is however many happen to be around at any one time.
* Does free will exist? If so, what difference does it make in terms of how we understand the cosmos? Magic? Right and wrong? Community ethics?
Yes, free will exists. But as someone once said: “You all are going to get an A in this course. It may take you taking a test 8 times to get an A, but you will get an A. Welcome to Behavorial Psychology 101.” That is the only predestination I see or acknowledge, the fact that we may have to take a test over and over and over to get it right.
* Life seems to require balance: for example, we all have to find the right balance between self-gratification and self-denial for the sake of our relationships, community, and long-term benefits. Many other examples of the importance of balance could be shown. How do we go about determining the best, most rational, most magical “balance point”?
This is a subjective truth. It’s something each person has to find for themselves through their goals and their desires and the discipline to actually try to reach it. Other than that, I think it’s trial and error.
* Who created the gods? Does it make any difference how we answer this question (in other words, is there “truth” regarding the gods)? Why or why not?
The Gods are elder brothers and sisters, and we can be equal to them. We created them out of a need to have a parent and/or someone to advise us. It was fear. They are people and they are friends.
* Should I honor a god or gods whose values or moral choices I reject? Why or why not?
Politeness demands that you acknowledge that they exist, nothing more. If their moral code does not match yours, then say “you exist, but I don’t want to associate with you.” Just as you would any aquaintence whose morals you object to. You honor and “worship” those you hold in esteem. Hard to do that if you don’t agree with the moral stance of that deity.
* Should I fear the gods? Why or why not?
I say not. Hold them in awe and respect, but fear implies that they will hurt you for no reason. Personally I don’t believe that is the case.
* Paganism and magic are disciplines of experience rather than faith. Would you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
Magick is, I will agree with that. Paganism is not.
Try this: “Christianity and Medicine are disciplines of experience rather than faith.” One has nothing to do with the other, one is a skill, one is an umbrella term for a lot of religions underneath it.
* I’ve had people close to me tell me that it was a good thing I became a Catholic, since I was a “bad” Pagan. But does it make sense to draw distinctions between “good” and “bad” practitioners of Pagan spirituality? If we draw this distinction, what separates the two?
Replace “Good” and “bad” with “skilled” and “unskilled”. You weren’t a “bad” Pagan, but it didn’t fit you as comfortably as Christianity does. I think. I met you once and spent about 10 minutes with you other than that. So I couldn’t make this judgment in any case.
* We live in a society that idolizes egalitarianism. I believe this is why so many of the people who achieve greatness in our society are actually quite mediocre: George W. Bush is a mediocre president; Bill Gates is a mediocre computer scientist who sells mediocre products; Britney Spears and Ashley Simpson are mediocre entertainers, and the list could go on and on. Meanwhile, we settle for a mediocre quality of life, filled with mind-numbing commutes, mediocre food, mediocre religion, mediocre work experiences, mediocre entertainment. Is there a place for true greatness in the world of magic and paganism? What does it look like? How do we encourage it among the few who are truly gifted, without “putting down” everyone else?
This is one of those questions that I don’t think will ever have an answer in the Modern world. As long as everyone is focussed on “everyone is equal” and unwilling to accept that there are exceptional people out there, doing exceptional things, and there are those who actually ARE greater than others, then we won’t be able to get past this.