A string played from both ends: on Empathy and Magic.
Over the last weeks I spent a lot of time diving deep into current research on empathy and its relation to the common psyche of mages and witches. I summarised what I learned in this article. Yet, once finished realisation hit me that I had missed an essential point. What this was, was to reflect on the purely practical implications of empathy in magic - outside of the realms of psychology, sociology and history. So here it is.
Human Beings - the twofold gates
In the mentioned article I refer to magicians using their own bodies and minds as laboratories of spirit and life. A laboratory naturally is a place of experiments and new discoveries - and this is how I look at most aspects of our ritual and visionary work: Whatever new comes through, it needs to connect to our physical and spiritual bodies first. Otherwise it won't be able to take effect either upon us or upon the world around us.
As magicians our minds and bodies are the gates for any spirit to pass through. Yet, strangely enough, these gates work both ways: Not only do the spirits pass through them into our world, but so do we into visions and the inner realms. Our skin, blood, muscles, thoughts, fears, emotions, etc. are the thresholds we ourselves step through to pass from one world into another... Feel free to think of yourself as a train station: a constant coming and going of spirits as well as your own consciousness. A connection point, a hub of encounters and passings, a place of constant exchange. Some passengers travel inwards, into the land that lies beyond the tracks; others travel outwards, into that brightly lit city that never sleeps...
It is important to understand this as a very physical reality of magic: We are a string that is played from both ends - on one end by the spirits, on the other by ourselves. We experience harmony or resonance when we both tune into the same note, the same word, the same story or intent. We experience dissonance when one of us changes their tune - and thus the other gors through a process of listening, of alteration and adjustment, to return to a state of resonance, only on a different note.
As mentioned in the article on empathy, much of our magical training is aimed at reducing noise. This is especially true in the early years of taining and makes complete sense: what good is an instrument that isn't tuned, that isn't handled with care and precision? What good is an instrument that gets played by all ten fingers randomly, without deliberate choice or any skills to listen and adjust? When we embark on our magical journeys that is exactly what we are aiming to do: to become a finely tuned body of resonance and silence and stillness is the very first pre-requisite for this. Yet, this is not only stillness of our minds, but equally stillness of our emotions.
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa already mentioned that the way for angels to speak to us is through the voice of our own mind. Just like someone who is far away needs to raise his voice and shout loudly against the wind - so someone who is close by can speak silently, and someone who has the ability to pass through us can speak directly with the voice of our minds... What Agrippa didn't mention is that the same phenomena holds true for our emotions.
The Body - the foundation of empathy
There was an interesting debate recently between several magicians online about the nature of sex with spiritual beings. What it came down to was a matter of holistic understanding of how our bodies work on the inner realms and how they are used by beings who reside outside of the physical realm to communicate with us...
Josephine McCarthy and I had discussed this topic in the past and found that our understanding of the matter was pretty aligned. This is how I look at it: Many spiritual beings who strive to contact us (or vice versa) see our bodies as the most obvious interface of communication. To better understand this, try to assume the perspective of a being on the inner realm: you observe humans and try to make sense of how they communicate in general. Given that most of their behaviour doesn't make any sense on the inner realms - as they act unconsciously on the astral level - and is charged with incredibly low amounts of power only, you look out for the few moments where it does make sense and brighter sparks of power are involved...
Now, if you observed a group of passionate philosophers there is a chance your spirit-self came to understand intellectual debate as the main interface of communication between humans. However, there are much less passionate philosophers out there than average blokes. Observing them the spirits will come to the obvious conclusion that humans communicate best through physical intercourse, i.e. sex. Because it si during these short moments that the spirits see how humans charge, open up, bond with each other, exchange spiritual and physical DNA, and finally release huge waves of power into each other and the space around them. Wether the spirits hold a preference for sex is not the question at all. Anybody who has spent sufficient time in the inner realm working with the spirits knows how incredibly pragmatic and straightforward most of them are. They will take the shortest way to get the job done. So if the only way you know to handle their levels of energy is sex, then sex be it.
The Mind - the necessity to stop projecting ourselves
Now, what does this have to do with Empathy and practical magic? Well, let me get us back on track by using another short detour if I may. Here we go:
Anybody who has ever attempted to train a dog will need to learn a very simple thing to begin with: Don't project your own human emotions and affects on the animal. Animals may act as humans in Disneyland, but that is the only place where they do so. In the real world a dog has very different emotional needs than humans have. Just observing his domesticated behaviour isn't enough to understand his true needs. A dog's behaviour is supposed to make sense when surrounded by other dogs, it is geared towards speaking to other members of the pack - not to humans. So learning to be empathetic with an animal requires us to being with a pretty counter-intuitive first step: that is to tame, to hold back and comtain our own emotions - so they do not cloud our ability to observe objectively and unbiased. Only once we understand that for a dog e.g. following you into every room of your house isn't a sign of need for contact, but an expression of being lost and not knowing where their safe place is - only once we are ready to let go of our own needs and stop projecting them on beings around us that are essentially different to us, have we built a first maiden-fundament for future magical practice...
Knowing how to practice empathy in magic appropriately is therefore of utmost importance. It is the art of becoming so silent within us that we truly are given the gift of listening to what is around us - both in the inner and outer worlds. Oly then will we hear the 'voices' of spirits - as expressed through the notes and tunes they play on the strings that we are.
The Environment - or the noise in the system
Unfortunately there is a final point - one that makes the hole subject much more complex. Regrettably the string that we are isn't only 'played' by ourselves and the spirits - but also by our crazy, crowded and fast-paced everyday environment.
Our houses and gardens, the rooms we dwell in, the land we live on and the people we encounter: In a normal state of being we simply cannot not communicate, we cannot avoid but being surrounded by an orchestra of voices and sounds - and fuelling the chaos of impressions and glances we sense any moment. The more sensitive we become to these dynamics as magicians - the more vulnerable we turn to electro smog, traffic noise, psychic pollution, etc.
It's another counter-intuitive process many of us experience everyday: The more we grow our skills to work with the spirits, the more exposed we'll become to the physical world around us. Our skin grows thinner, more sensitive to even the lightest touch - in the most literal sense of the word.
And this is why magic teaches stillness to start out with. It is why smart people such as my old teacher or Josephine built their entire body of practice around mastering presence in silence. It is why in magic Empathy - i.e. emotional and cognitive resonance - is a tool and not a virtue.