“By Being, It is.” -Parmenides
There is hardly a subject more elusive than magic, a word conjuring paradoxical images, illusions, and impossible happenings—phenomena that explode the known parameters of ordinary reality. Magic forces a reconsideration of the nature of existence in the acknowledged failure to grasp the causal mechanism that lays hidden behind the mystery of any performed trickery.
In Israel Regardie’s Tree of Life, magic and yoga form two distinct branches (techniques) of Mysticism, the sacred art of ecstatic union of self and universe, in comprehensive consciousness adjusting to “larger, more harmonious ends.” (Regardie 1932) In this sense, magic deliberately intends the exaltation of the imagination and soul to transcend the normal plane of thought, providing the foundational event of mystical psychology: the experience of transcendence that induces a “disturbance of consciousness.” (Voegelin 2000) In its movement toward transcendence, the soul’s spiritual outbursts become ontic events that manifest the social fields constituting an evolutionary history.
Here, transcendence originates in the tension between spiritual and mundane orders, reorienting one to a primal experience invoking the complex network of cosmic analogies, rooted in a common source. Any hermeneutics of transcendence will subsequently radiate symbols to communicate this primal tension, harmonizing spirit and matter through symbolic concepts to effect corresponding physical effects; and it is this process that differentiates magic from mysticism. For whereas mysticism is a method of changing one’s perception and experience of reality by empowering one’s mind, magic, by contrast, changes reality itself. (Garb 2014)
In her landmark text Mysticism, Evelyn Underhill holds that mysticism in its pure form is the “science of union with the absolute,” an “approach to the Unitive Life” that is “freely beyond doctrine”—the art of establishing conscious relation with the Absolute to lead a spiritual life. (Underhill 1911) She explores the relation of the mystic tradition to vitalism, psychology, theology, symbolism, and magic, detailing the “Mystic Way” as the process of awakening, purification, and illumination of the self, drawing from such mystics as St. Teresa, Meister Eckhart, St. John of the Cross, and many more…
This mystic path is contrasted from the path of magic, in which “the will unites with the intellect in an impassioned desire for supersensible knowledge.” (Underhill, pg. 71) Magic thus becomes the “antithesis” to a mysticism in which “the will is united with the emotions in an impassioned desire to transcend the sense-world, in order that the self may be joined by love to the one eternal and ultimate Object of love; whose existence is intuitively perceived by that which we used to call the soul…” (ibid) The difference between mysticism and magic is, for Underhill, described as the difference between love as an instinct of the heart, on the one hand, and the deliberate exaltation of will as an activity of the intellect on the other.
Mystic union is the fulfillment of mystic love, a total dedication, desire, and tendency of the soul towards its source, annihilating the illusion of separation: “By the surrender of her selfhood in its wholeness, the perfecting of her love, she slid from Becoming to Being, and found her true life hidden in God.” (Underhill, pg. 449) Magic, distinguished from ecstatic union with this Source, reaffirms the material plane yet denies the freedom of Reality by extending, rather than escaping, the boundaries of the material world, effecting a desired end by a forced realization of will through knowledge. For “in this hard-earned acquirement of power over the Many, he tends to forget the One,” seeking instead control over the world instead by the disciplined mastery of the human will. (Underhill pg. 162)
Yet does the reconstitution of the human mind not inevitably change the very nature of the world itself? The psychoactive mediation of a deeper sense is instructive, indeed formative; any re-presentation of transcendent experience symbolizes a sacred integration of the hidden, unconscious articulation and will of the Source, whereby new potentiality in the development of consciousness and activity is released into the planetary organism, engendering a zone of vibrational frequencies. (Runhyar 1982) The order of energy shifts as patterns of resonance to transcendent attractors, recombining essential (archetypal) frequencies as cultural structures resonate to new vibrations in tune with natural rhythms that reflect the creative activity of the “divine order” of the “gods.”
In this way we can understand the cosmic whole as a harmony integrating its differentiated tones into the music of the spheres, releasing a vibrancy of spiritual tone whose psychic resonance impacts the human psyche, individually and collectively. Through “divine love,” the mystic mind of wholeness harmonizes this universal plenum of vibratory energy, whose melody is ensouled in vibrating psycho-mental space. As other members of culture resonate, vibrant with this new, creative tone, their entire being becomes attuned to the rhythms and the fundamental vibration of the cultural reality.
Enchanting new forms of vibration, the sympathetic relation between inner and outer dimensions of an interconnected whole can perhaps now be described as “magical,” bridging the Spiritual and Physical planes in the experience and delivery of one’s full potential in a mysterious and universal energy field. Our cells, DNA, and emotional process directly effect the physical world we contact, influencing matter through instantaneous communication in an interconnected field. The archetypal resonance of magic redirects energy to the original movement of a species, whose intelligences inform the whole-bodied awareness of an instinct evolving physically and consciously to purposely affect relations towards its continued survival. Perhaps in this way we can more ably recover our place as fractal expressions of a common energy and forge cosmic fire as it flares forth from our own lives, lessening its distortion by according to a divine harmony in touch with its natural rhythm; hoping, dreaming, and acting to remember our truest nature, rooted in the phylogenetic Tree of Life.
Garb, Jonathan (2014) Lecture 1.2 “Magic, Mysticism, and Psychology.” In Modern European Mysticism and Psychological Thought. Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Retrieved 2/2/14 from Coursera (https://class.coursera.org/mysticthought)
Regardie, Israel (1932) The Tree of Life: An Illustrated Study in Magic. Llewellyn Publishers: St. Paul, MN
Rudhyar, Dane (1982) The Magic of Tone and the Art of Music. Shambhala: Boulder, CO
Underhill, Evelyn (1911) Mysticism: The Preeminent Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness. Doubleday: New York, NY
Voegelin, Eric. (2000) Order and History: In Search of Order. (Ed. Ellis Sandoz) In the Collected Works of Eric Voegelin. University of Missouri Press: Columbia, MO