Self-Transformation in Magic - An Exploration (Part 2)

(To read the first part of this post please click here.) Having looked into two classical concepts of Self and Self-Transformation, let's take some time to explore a third and more modern version. Also we will be looking into conclusions we can derive from all three - and how they may be defining essential criteria for magical training today.

The third model of Self can be called the Model of the Book or the Self-centered Model. It assumes the following premises:

  • Self is subjectively constructed, therefore no objective exterior orientation for its transformation, neither horizontal nor vertical, can be assumed

  • Reality is understood as a product of chance a happenstance - or alternatively as the current state of ongoing dynamics which intrinsic laws cannot yet be understood fully
  • Perception of reality is assumed to be subjectively co-created between Self and the community / culture it is a part of

  • The desire to make sense, to see meaning and direction for personal transformation by an individual Self is seen as a statement about the individual Self rather than the objective world or society it is placed into

  • No explicit concept or ontological reality of of divinity is assumed, therefore the model can be understood as Human- or Self-centered

  • The subjectively constructed and individual concept of Self is essentially determined by two factors:
    1. the genetic makeup of the physical being the self is perceived to be a part of, ie biology is assumed to predetermin psychology
    2. the memory imprints and social scripts internalized during socialisation

According to this model the individually constructed 'Self' therefore equals a book whose physical features are determind by genetics. It's story, i.e. what is written inside, however, is determined by early childhood experiences and related, mostly unconsciously held beliefs and values. One's way of being in the world - i.e. perceiving oneself and other's - is mostly out of control for the individual Self. Instead it hugely depends on (1) one's genetic makeup, (2) the functionality or dysfunctionality of social scripts internalized during early age and (3) one's varying levels of control of these unconsciously held beliefs about life.

Pain and suffering according to this model are perceived to be either caused by misfortune or to be self-inflicted through dysfunctional behaviour or assumptions. In either cases the source of suffering is mostly out of one's direct control or even influence. The concept of misfortune and what triggers pain, loss or suffering remains enigmatic and mostly unexplored, perceived to be ruled by chance or causal circumstances. Only the types of negative experiences initiated by intrapersonal causes - i.e. by one's own makeup of Self - are researched in more detail. As a result several types of 'therapies' were concieved - all aimed to allow for a partial re-construction of one's perception of Self in order to blend more functionally into a reality that is assumed to be created subjectively in large terms.

What stands out in this last model is its hesitation to assume anything as given or ontological real. It is marked by a general scepticism towards e experience of oneself and one's environment. The ability to change one's perception of Self and reality forms a constant and critically important adjustment process in order to avoid pain or suffering caused by what is perceived as dysfunctional subjective behaviour.

Secondly, what is also significant about this model is the absence of any fixed orientation points outside one's subjectively constructed perception of reality. Objective reality is reduced to the most pragmatic level of physical laws and solid-matter experiences. Therefore an individual's desire to search for meaning and direction of personal transformation is no longer a functional basis for spiritual growth or diversity of spiritual experiences, but rather an expression of a psychological defecit that needs to be addressed in functional terms.

Power in this model is granted to the agents of society who hold authority over defining HOW an individual's construction of reality is performed and can be altered again, i.e. medical and psychological doctors, neuronal scientists and sociologists, etc. The place and function of spirituality in society in this model is replaced by a hugely fragmented and individualized search for a better construction and perception of onself. The experience of meaning is confined to the realm of one's subjective psyche only - which breaks the chain of all previous mystic schools and cults where collective identity was established through joint experience of spiritual meaning.

Now, the above descriptions might sound terribly theoretic for anybody who has never gone through therapy himself while trying to cling on to a spiritual worldview. They might also sound terribly useless for anybody who never switched paradigms and e.g. tried to explain the HOW and WHY of ritual magic to an outsider or e.g. discussed the use of grimoire magic with an authentic shaman.

As always in life - being aware of how limited our own worldview might be, that it is essentially nothing but one choice amongst many possible can come with equal amount of relief and irritation. The good news is: if we struggled with our own beliefs about ourselves and the world we are living in, we now might see a choice to change both of them. The bad news is: if we didn't as much struggle with these, but rather dependet on them to be fixed and unquestioned realities, somebody might have just pulled the rug out from under our feet...

Once we have realized this choice, however, we will never be able to return to a world without it. We will never be able to resume the single-minded, authentic power of belief with which e.g. an orthodox priest or a native tribal shaman follow their ritual actions. Accepting this ambiguity, this paradox of absolute belief and relative knowledge is a central characteristic of our modern world - wether we like it or not.

And this is why the role of magical training in our modern world also needs to be essentially different - from what it used to be in times when you simply killed people who questioned your own sacred beliefs. In a world where everything needs to be questioned, recreating space for the sacred is the essential challenge and purpose of magical and therapeutic beginner's training. Establishing a space uninterfered by our logical, conscious minds, a space where we can simply open ourselves up, experience and allow the message of our senses to flow through us unfiltered is a huge achievement these days.

If climbing the golden Hermetic Chain, if walking on the Etz Chiim, if falling into spirit trance, lying down on the therapist's couch or kneeling before the altars of ancient goddesses, if all of these are nothing but options, we might find ourselves confronted with one of the most essential questions after all: Who is making the choices?

Given from what we have learned above, we probably understand that allowing our conscious rational minds making these choices would most likely be the worst option. After all they are the ones who are deeply confused by the absence of absolute orientation or truth to begin with. They are the ones that need help to rediscover orientation, not the ones to provide it. So if our rational minds are out of the equation, who else could be there to help us out?

Well, I guess, Life is? Life actually is doing a wonderful job in making these choices for us already. Unfortunately it is quite easy to overlook this - as we hammer our rational minds against the brick walls of believes to spill out the one and only logical answer... Life is making choices, giving us direction everyday. Through people we meet. Through places we discover, through things we read, see, hear, smell. Every contact we make through our bodily senses with Life might be exactly what we are searching for: an answer that needs hearing, an image that needs perceiving, a taste that needs attention, a melody that needs hearing. We are surrounded by answers everyday. What keeps us from making use of them is our obsession for not letting go of the wrong questions. The one's we belief we are ought to ask. Rather than the one's that fit to the answers we are been given any moment.

Maybe this is what I am taking from this exploration and journey into concepts of Self and Self-Transformation? In the ancient days everything started with the question - and the pursuit of the searcher was to find the right answers. Today this might be the other way around. As our rational minds have become blocked with concepts and theories that make all things relative and subjective, maybe our search begins with finding the right questions?

What an uncomfortable idea that is. Because it needs me to let go of so much power I believed I held: The power of my conscious mind, my rational armour, my shield, my weapon. I am actually not quite sure what is left of me, once I let go of all of these? Maybe a child, maybe something closer to an animal than a human, I might think? Either way, I know, letting go of of all this armour will make me incredibly vulnerable, exposed and naked after all... Maybe exactly the right state Life needs me in to make living contact to my Self?