Becoming an occultist
January 28, 2020 7:45 AM   Subscribe

The western mystery traditions are becoming more and more enticing to millennials. An interview with a DePaul university PhD philosophy candidate on esotericism.
posted by FiftyShadesOfBae (54 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
 
Millennials to snake people still helpin me make sense of the world.
posted by howfar at 8:04 AM on January 28 [9 favorites]


This made me curious about what they are up to (pdf) over there at DePaul U philosophy dept. About what I guessed: history of philosophy, phenomenology, Continental, all of which (as opposed to analytic philosophy) tend to be found at Catholic Universities, in the U.S.
posted by thelonius at 8:08 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


I feel like tarot card reading is making a comeback, though maybe that's just on Twitter. But it doesn't surprise me that esotericism and the occult is making a comeback in the 20's, just like in the... uh, in the 20's. I expect theosophy will make a comeback next. I mean, is Joel Osteen any less of a hustler than Blavatsky was? The next Blavatsky is somewhere out there.
posted by GuyZero at 8:16 AM on January 28 [9 favorites]


The next Blavatsky is somewhere out there.

Hopefully less racist this time?
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:25 AM on January 28 [9 favorites]


Blavatsky has a direct lineage of influence into EST, I think. Something post New Age, anyway.
posted by clew at 8:26 AM on January 28


I feel like tarot card reading is making a comeback, though maybe that's just on Twitter

Perhaps another indicator: There have been several hundred tarot decks on Kickstarter.
posted by jedicus at 8:40 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


The generation that grew up on the Catholic priest scandal is rejecting the church. Suppose there's a connection?
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 8:41 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


Depressing if not too surprising that the diabolicals would make a return. I cannot recommend Foucault's Pendulum enough.
posted by bouvin at 8:59 AM on January 28 [16 favorites]


About what I guessed: history of philosophy, phenomenology, Continental, all of which (as opposed to analytic philosophy) tend to be found at Catholic Universities, in the U.S

Can somebody give a gloss on this to a took-one-ethical-philosophy-course-in-undergrad layperson?
posted by HeroZero at 9:12 AM on January 28


I can't recall who among the related folks I follow on Twitter said it, but it's worth noting that the occult / esotericism / divination / practical magic have consistently been of interest to, and employed in a number of faith traditions* in poor, working class, and immigrant communities in the US.

The uptick that's generating media attention now is specifically among white, relatively affluent young people for the most part.

* If you want to make a distinction between, say, what goes on in Santería or Vodou and mainline US Christianity w/regards to communicating with, attempting to placate, or obtain favors from supernatural beings.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:16 AM on January 28 [13 favorites]


I can't watch the video right now, but I'm guessing this article I saw a few days ago is related.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:17 AM on January 28 [1 favorite]


The generation that grew up on the Catholic priest scandal is rejecting the church. Suppose there's a connection?

Seems likely to me, but not just Catholicism. Millennials are leaving churches and the void caused by leaving behind solemn ritual, magical solution, correctness of thought, and personal elitism is very real, possibly genetic to some degree. It may be part of a recovery process, which often include drugs and alcohol to lessen guilt, and sometimes leads one to impulsively join a personality cult to fill the need for absolute authority and communal milieu.
posted by Brian B. at 9:47 AM on January 28


Can somebody give a gloss on this to a took-one-ethical-philosophy-course-in-undergrad layperson?

Well, broadly speaking, philosophy departments are divided between two schools of philosophy which are often called analytic (sometimes, 'Anglo-American') and Continental, although no one seems really happy with this vocabulary, and there are certainly philosophers who don't fit well into this dualistic scheme. I was curious where someone who is into Crowley is fitting in as a grad student, and, no surprise, it's not a hardcore linguistic analysis program.
posted by thelonius at 9:48 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Oh. So not an oculist, then.
posted by Naberius at 9:55 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


I mean, Socrates and Plato were down with the Eleusinian Mysteries.
posted by Beardman at 10:04 AM on January 28 [4 favorites]


I have a notion that occultism is about a search for personal experience and sometimes for personal power.

This era has a lot of dissociation from personal experience for both good and ill. Good: vaccines aren't intuitive, but they work. Bad: eating disorders reflect people not strongly registering hunger and satiety.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:05 AM on January 28 [5 favorites]


I have a notion that occultism is about a search for personal experience and sometimes for personal power.

Vaccines are a side-effect of parents fearing developmental disorders that are largely random and they they have no control over, thus they try to exert control over something unrelated they do have control over, vaccinations.

Eating disorders are the same tbh - people feel they have no control over some element of their life (body appearance, societal expectations, family issues) and so they control something they can control: when and how they eat.

Mainstream churches tell you that someone else is making all the decisions, occultism is about trying to work your way back into the control loop by using secret special backdoors.
posted by GuyZero at 10:40 AM on January 28 [10 favorites]


One need only peruse the pages of Gary Lachman's erudite and wonderful Turn Off Your Mind to be reminded of how many of the 20th Century's 'Great Thinkers' were rube-fodder for these mystical wing-nut weasels.
posted by aeshnid at 10:40 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I think I can speak to this. I've been drawn to what is probably best described as intuitive, totally made up nature-focused chaos magic and aspects of paganism since I was a youth, and in hindsight it wasn't actually a rebellion against Christianity but merely an entire expansion beyond it unable to be fit within its narrow walls or bookends.

There's a lot of things going on right now with this resurgence. And it's not just younger people, and as pointed out in this thread it's definitely not just young white millenials - but they're definitely getting noticed.

First and foremost organized religion - specifically Christianity - is no longer able to hide their systemic problem with abuse. But it's not just Christianity. Younger people also seem to be globally and equally aware of abuses in many other religions from Islamicism and Hinduism and even organisized Buddhism. They are very agnostic, aware, and conscious about this point. It's not as simple as young white millenials rejecting Christianty.

Thanks to the internet young people are also increasingly aware of the general anti-LGBTQ stances, the attacks on reproductive healthcare and women's rights and other cultural issues that have all primarily come from religious sources or their aegis trying (and usually succeeding) at influencing the state and they're extremely, acutely aware of this historical hypocrisy considering all of the sexual abuse problems of many, many different churches large and small in conflict with this.

"Be thyself", "do what thou wilt" and "do no harm" are very appealing messages.

People in general also still want to make sense out of often senseless chaos that is life and reality - but perhaps not in the same literal sense of trying to appease cruel gods or to demystify a natural disaster or comfort themselves with false meanings or fictions - but more to make sense of things internally and how to manage one's place in the world and the very real chaos of modern life through some kind of a spiritual practice or ritual.

Whether the desired results or practices are meditation, reflection, asking questions or celebration and worship - people seem to want something that's special, beautiful and reverent that isn't just pageantry or pomp but a personal expression of what can be thought of as the art of ritual itself.

Younger people are also increasingly ecologically aware and seek a connection to nature that's more immediate than most organized religions offer, especially Christianity and rejecting anything resembling Dominionism over nature.

And young people and people in general still seek community, communion and some expression of spirituality in connection to the natural world and the things that make being alive and a living, thinking being full of thoughts and curiosity so wonderful and awesome sometimes.

Another factor going on is the political landscape is a mess. People doing rituals to "hex the patriarchy" and trying to restore some balance and peace is very real right now. But they're also organizing politically and registering to vote. The ritual work is only a small part of it, it's the meditation that focuses actions.

I'm finding that all of this holds true even for some deeply skeptical, scientifically minded people who work in STEM or research and they have no conflict about having some kind of practice or ritual.

And last and most importantly on top of all of this there's still the rather unanswered questions about how tangible and real - for lack of better terms - the concept of love as an energy seems to be. Or psychic energy in general.

There is a real, practicable magic there that people want to connect with and use for themselves, and for their loved ones and to improve the quality of their lives, whether it's going to yoga, or meditating, or engaging in ritual in a variety of ways and schools.

A lot of this ritual is really self care and love and a drive for healing and spiritual growth.

It isn't a surprise to me that interest or active practice of paganism and other occult practices are surging.
posted by loquacious at 10:43 AM on January 28 [45 favorites]


Religion serves a lot of purposes for people, and as the traditional faiths continue to bunker down in regressive orthodoxy that excludes women and queer people from full engagement, it's not surprising that many of those would turn to religious traditions that are open and accepting of people like them.

It's something that New Atheists continue to miss, and why so much of atheism continues to be predominately white and cismale.
posted by SansPoint at 10:57 AM on January 28 [3 favorites]


I think my only qualm--and this may be dealt with in the interview, I've only had a chance to listen to the first few minutes--is the idea that this is at all new, or that youth are being drawn to the occult in larger numbers than before. Mainstream religion has always been dissatisfying, and the replacements on offer haven't changed a whole lot over the years, trying to trade enormous amounts of your money and time for the spiritual things you were supposed to get freely from religion.

Will they (these disaffected white youth) get it from occult practices? Who knows? There is still SO MUCH heteronormativity in the occult, so much "the secret mysteries are all explained by analogy to these TWO AND ONLY TWO GENDERS THAT ONLY LIKE EACH OTHER". So much borrowing from other cultures for decoration and validation. And of course none of it's actually free, with tons of books and items to buy. But it does feel like there's more room for you to make your own path there, than there is in Christianity, especially as the church tears itself apart over whether it wants to uphold fascism or love.

I'm pretty ambivalent. This stuff was essential to me during my teen and early adult years, a way of resolving the awful tension of being super-religious and queer. And I'm always happy when people have a way out of a culture that hates them, that breeds and profits from that hate. Can kids who are more aware of the whole kyriarchy than we were back in the 20th century, undo the problematic stuff that lurks there?
posted by mittens at 11:14 AM on January 28 [9 favorites]


Doesn't this stuff make a comeback everytime a group of people collectively turn 20something?
posted by ian1977 at 11:56 AM on January 28 [6 favorites]


mittens: My partner was very actively involved in the OTO for a number of years, but quit after the head of the local temple revealed themselves to be a non-binary exclusionist asshole—in direct violation of the OTO's stated policy on non-binary membership and the roles they can play in the ceremonies. (Short version: a non-binary person can be Priest or Priestess, regardless of their assigned sex at birth.)
posted by SansPoint at 12:04 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Thanks to the internet young people are also increasingly aware of the general anti-LGBTQ stances, the attacks on reproductive healthcare and women's rights and other cultural issues that have all primarily come from religious sources or their aegis trying (and usually succeeding) at influencing the state and they're extremely, acutely aware of this historical hypocrisy considering all of the sexual abuse problems of many, many different churches large and small in conflict with this.

Ironic, then, that so many of them turn to a Blavatsky-ite tradition that's just as morally tarnished.
posted by invitapriore at 12:04 PM on January 28 [8 favorites]


Don't infer too much from DePaul being a Catholic University. You barely even notice that it is a Catholic school at all.
posted by srboisvert at 1:17 PM on January 28


Don't infer too much from DePaul being a Catholic University. You barely even notice that it is a Catholic school at all.

To be clear, I believe that they often have excellent departments of philosophy. I'm sorry if what I said was offensive.
posted by thelonius at 1:30 PM on January 28


I can't recall who among the related folks I follow on Twitter said it, but it's worth noting that the occult / esotericism / divination / practical magic have consistently been of interest to, and employed in a number of faith traditions* in poor, working class, and immigrant communities in the US.

The uptick that's generating media attention now is specifically among white, relatively affluent young people for the most part.


This. In traditional folk magic a lot of practical magic or practitioners are in the advisory/ counselor/ community wisdom role or the scammy selling luck or good fortune role. A girl on Instagram who thinks she's a witch has a lot more in common with The Secret than with traditional folk beliefs. Then again, so did the original occultists, didn't they? Crowley wouldn't totally had a Patreon where he could have explained the beliefs of countries he'd visited briefly to all his subscribers.
posted by fshgrl at 1:40 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Doesn't this stuff make a comeback everytime a group of people collectively turn 20something?

Millennials are in their 30s. I know this is aimed at them as I do freelance work for a marketing agency and this is one of the trends they identified for 29-36 year old middle class American women of all ethnicities last fall. These trend announcements are very influential so expect a DELUGE of occult themed lady-products coming your way very shortly.

There will be Tarot themed baby onesies by Easter, mark my words. Actually that's not a bad idea.............
posted by fshgrl at 1:44 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Ironic, then, that so many of them turn to a Blavatsky-ite tradition that's just as morally tarnished.

Perhaps. I don't think most modern and younger occultists know who Helena Blavatsky even is, and at least among the younger (generally white) people I know or see evidence of some kind of occultism, they seem to be trending towards more historical Nordic paganism or what might be better called non-denominational chaos magic.

These people are also pretty aware that they're either making stuff up or begging/borrowing from a multitude of traditions and that it's really about their own personal rituals and not following any specific school of mysticism while rejecting that brand and era of spiritualism.

And, yeah, a lot of Wiccan or Crowleyian magic is very hetereonormative, but that's changing and becoming more inclusive. I've seen a fair amount of writing about it and how to, say, approach the gendered parts of ritual as trans and the common push these days is "How do you identify and which role suits you?"

It's also pretty much absent from more flexible personal practices that people actually engage in (and what I'm calling for lack of better terms) chaos magic or inventive, intuitive ritual.
posted by loquacious at 2:15 PM on January 28 [9 favorites]


Soon they'll bow to Moloch/Mammon/The Market and surrender their children.
posted by No Robots at 2:55 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


"How do you identify and which role suits you?"

If I knew that, I wouldn't need spiritual guidance! :P
posted by captain afab at 3:01 PM on January 28 [4 favorites]


Depressing if not too surprising that the diabolicals would make a return. I cannot recommend Foucault's Pendulum enough.

Someone recommends Foucault's Pendulum, someone is reminded it's time for a second reading.
posted by elkevelvet at 3:17 PM on January 28 [3 favorites]


Perhaps. I don't think most modern and younger occultists know who Helena Blavatsky even is, and at least among the younger (generally white) people I know or see evidence of some kind of occultism, they seem to be trending towards more historical Nordic paganism or what might be better called non-denominational chaos magic.

These people are also pretty aware that they're either making stuff up or begging/borrowing from a multitude of traditions and that it's really about their own personal rituals and not following any specific school of mysticism while rejecting that brand and era of spiritualism.

That sounds way better, but I sure haven't met anyone with that level of self-awareness in the Bay Area, which I guess is something I could say in nearly any context so maybe I shouldn't be surprised. I don't think you need to know who Helena Blavatsky is to find that particular tradition odious, though, since even without the historical context it's blatantly appropriative and exoticizing on its face.
posted by invitapriore at 4:07 PM on January 28


Wicca is another religion though, I don't think that is trending. I think it's the idea of a personal connection to nature/ the spirit world etc.
posted by fshgrl at 4:23 PM on January 28


Compulsory reading about this post-modern turn to the occult (in the true sense, of secret knowledge hidden within everyday phenomena) is Pasulka's American Cosmic, which changed my mind about a lot of things I think about religious ideas.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 4:34 PM on January 28


Spirituality, like sex and drugs, are perpetually being invented for the first time.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:46 PM on January 28 [2 favorites]


Hang on while I finish this Goop checkout...

Just what we need. More magical thinking.
posted by Windopaene at 5:05 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Don't infer too much from DePaul being a Catholic University. You barely even notice that it is a Catholic school at all.

To be clear, I believe that they often have excellent departments of philosophy. I'm sorry if what I said was offensive.


To be specific, it's a *Jesuit* university. Jesuits are...very practical.
posted by notsnot at 5:25 PM on January 28 [7 favorites]


I was going to come here to say what loquacious said but they said it better.

I've read Tarot for at least 20 years now and I never once really thought "magic cards will tell me the future!" but they've always been a good way to focus on my problems and work through the possibilities.

I did dabble in "witchcraft" (of the Wiccan-ish sort) in my late teens and I really don't have the patience for it anymore. But I think the sense that I could tap into something powerful was ... well, powerful, regardless of the actual reality of it. And I mean, I don't know. I do feel like I felt something when I was practicing. Was that just being caught up in the moment? Was it something more? I don't know. I mean, I know what I believed at the time. I don't know what I believe about it now, but I'm not discounting how it made me feel.

I know of a lot of smart women who are into this sort of thing or astrology and yes, I think we have a lot of privilege to play with these ideas, but I do think a lot of it is that it's partially just a, for lack of a better word, "fun" way to interpret the world. There are so few answers as to why our lives are the way they are, even if we've felt like we've done everything we were supposed to (and so many things feel like they're against us! Mostly because they are!) So being able to feel like that special rock we have gives us confidence or that person is a jerk toward us because our astrological signs aren't compatible feels like as good of an explanation as anything else. Usually because there is no other explanation.

I'm not speaking for everyone here, of course.
posted by darksong at 5:54 PM on January 28 [14 favorites]


The generation that grew up on the Catholic priest scandal is rejecting the church. Suppose there's a connection?

It's not Catholicism that's failing, though, it's increasingly-inaccurately-named "mainline" Protestantism that's in freefall. Graph in the middle of this article: Catholics, Evangelical Protestants, and Black Protestants are steady-to-slightly-declining.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:07 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Sorry, I didn't RtFA/LttEDYTL (Listen to the entire droney you tube lecture), but I noticed that the image on the front video is in the style of Rosicrucian/Masonic paintings by Manly P Hall, an early 20th mystic who made a swell illustrated big book of esoteric alchemy & things, 'The Secret Teaching of All Ages'. Recommended for artists interested in alchemical imagery.
posted by ovvl at 6:34 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


This discussion reminds me of a line from the conclusion of Keith Thomas's Religion and the Decline of Magic: "if magic is defined as the employment of ineffective techniques to allay anxiety when effective ones are not available, then we must recognize that no society will ever be free from it."
posted by Pater Aletheias at 8:28 PM on January 28 [9 favorites]


So being able to feel like that special rock we have gives us confidence or that person is a jerk toward us because our astrological signs aren't compatible feels like as good of an explanation as anything else. Usually because there is no other explanation.

That one might have any expectation of an explanation in the first place seems both like the height of hubris and a direct contravention of nearly every emotionally mature spiritual practice I can think of. That’s a big part of why this nominal resurgence of occultism is such a nasty bit of bullshit: it’s primarily a tool for retroactively justifying selfish behavior by deferring agency in an appeal to an ahistorical cosmology.
posted by invitapriore at 11:47 PM on January 28 [1 favorite]


Would it be possible for people to pause just a second before commenting and consider whether they could be a little more kind, curious and respectful towards those who practice this stuff? Maybe? I just don't think that slinging around insults is a great way of engaging, and it's fairly wearying; regardless of how many people come in to thoughtfully and carefully explain the significance this has for them emotionally and spiritually, it never seems to stop the tide of bile.
posted by Acheman at 4:28 AM on January 29 [18 favorites]


Don't infer too much from DePaul being a Catholic University. You barely even notice that it is a Catholic school at all.

To be clear, I believe that they often have excellent departments of philosophy. I'm sorry if what I said was offensive.

To be specific, it's a *Jesuit* university. Jesuits are...very practical.


DePaul is a Vincentian Catholic school that is focused on service for the needy. It requires no spiritual mission statement from its faculty, only has crosses in its rooms of worship, openly celebrates tolerance of all possible minority groups ethnic or religious.

Loyola is Chicago's Christian Jesuit school, has crosses everywhere, requires a spiritual mission statement from faculty and plays much better basketball.
posted by srboisvert at 5:27 AM on January 29 [3 favorites]


srboisvert: In summary, Catholic Universities are a land of contrasts. Thank you.
posted by SansPoint at 6:32 AM on January 29 [1 favorite]


This was still open on Safari after the computer came back from an update so I am gonna pause in the middle of setting up for a ritual and note that, for those expressing surprise at a generation full of gender weirdness turning to mystery traditions that involve The Magical Male And The Magical Female: there are gender-essentialist groups, and there are insanely queer-friendly groups.

Also I will note that if you do much more than the most cursory reading, pretty much every Serious Mystical Text is going to say things like "everyone has the Male and Female within them, and a good magician cultivates both" and probably point out that those names are just one aspect of a huge cosmic duality. You will find a lot of alchemical metaphor about "uniting the Male and Female" which I am pretty sure is *not* about merging with your opposite-sexed lover in one grand hermaphroditic creature with two heads and four arms and legs but is more about getting certain parts of your non-physical body cleaned out and running properly. Revived mystery religions are no different from the major religious institutions in this respect, there's shit Jesus said about "the male becoming female and the female becoming male".

Anyway. Room's pretty much set up, I'm gonna put the last candle in place and officially turn "some candles and curtains on top of some boxes I still haven't unpacked from when I moved" into "a set of ceremonial altars" and do a magical thing.

I should really get off my ass and take some more steps towards getting my queer-as-fuck tarot deck reprinted, too. Maybe that's on today's to-do list.
posted by egypturnash at 11:20 AM on January 29 [8 favorites]


I am pretty sure is *not* about merging with your opposite-sexed lover in one grand hermaphroditic creature with two heads and four arms and legs

but depending on the text it's not NOT about that.
posted by GuyZero at 12:20 PM on January 29


We are a pattern-seeking, story-telling species. Practices like tarot and astrology and chaos magic(k) are ways of understanding the patterns we find and stories about who we are and how we choose to relate to the world around us.

We're getting a rise in the "scam" level of practices: "believe this works and it will make your life better!" because we're coming out of decades of suppression of both facts and evaluation techniques in schools, combined with instant, global access to raw data, both of the physical world and social realms.

The appeal is obvious: Here's a practice that's survived hundreds of years, that claims (on the surface) to make sense of the world, that claims that it's not simple or obvious (or else everyone would use it and there wouldn't be "secrets" to reveal) - it takes study, discipline, and intuitive leaps to make it work.

What it doesn't require: Formal training - not because it couldn't work, but because none is available. (And even when something like it is, the other traits are needed.) Money. A particular background or specific prior training. Good social skills. Understanding of tech. Physical health. College-level English skills. A stable place to live. A loving family.

No wonder millennials are flocking to it. But that doesn't mean it's all garbage; practices - memes - that have no value to humans get dropped. Not a lot of phrenologists these days.

The test for value of spiritual practices should not be, "Are the claims made by its most vocal advocates, the ones making a living at it, objectively correct?" but "Are people's lives improved by it? Are they happier and healthier because of these practices?," with a counterpoint of, "Are there people being hurt by these practices - as opposed to being hurt by scam artists who use these practices?"

(There are differences between "cars are bad for communities because of exhaust fumes" and "cars are bad for communities because of parking lots" and "cars are bad for communities because drunk drivers cause accidents.")

Divination and magic techniques don't produce facts. But most people don't make most of their decisions based on facts - raw facts are only part of the process. "Which school should I attend" is not a matter of objective evaluations, and "which person, if any, should I marry" is about as fact-light as any decision can get.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:29 PM on January 29 [5 favorites]


egypturnash: Don’t mind me chiming in, I’ve just been waiting for that to get reprinted since I found out about it last summer!

But in all seriousness, there’s something appealing about finding a sort of truly personal space to work on one’s own anxieties and mental health through ritual and meditation.

For some people this can be done with religion, but with the harm that certain religious dogmas have caused to some individuals (especially minority groups) it’s not a surprise that spiritualism, broadly, has had an uptick concurrent with the gradual decline of organized religion in western countries.
posted by The Situationist Room with Guy Debord at 12:46 PM on January 29 [3 favorites]


The problem is they're latching onto the *wrong* esoterica. Hail Eris!
posted by nickzoic at 3:50 PM on January 29 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if I, as a Discordian, believe in the concept of wrong esoterica... but wow some of them sure are latching on to the stupid esoterica.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 4:59 PM on January 29


Just what we need. More magical thinking.

Windowpaene, I appreciate you deeply and I've read many comments from you that I have enjoyed very much, but this isn't one of them.

Is it really magical thinking if your goal with a ritual or sitting down with runes or a tarot deck are simply because it's meditative and leads yourself to ask yourself question you wouldn't normally ask? To reflect on one's goals and direction in life?

Is it magical thinking if you don't expect physical real world results from doing magical or occult ritual work, but internalized results and self transformation?

Or even simply to do something that's interesting, pretty and even a bit mysterious just because you enjoy it?

What is the real, ontological difference between casting runes for entertainment and playing Scrabble for entertainment?

Is it magical thinking to engage in using psychedlics, entactogens and related psychoactive drugs for these same reasons - for self improvement, development, getting over trauma and processing the very deep emotions nearly everyone struggles with, such as fear of one's own mortality?

Is it magical thinking to use one's imagination to hope for and try to see a better world or a better life for oneself - to facilitate and guide real world effort and work?

Is it magical thinking to delve into the very real world of using scientifically proven chemically active plants and herbs and a good, healthy diet magical thinking? Because this used to be "witchcraft", and I've seen and have used enough of this commonplace witchcraft to know it's real and it's not Goop-grade jade eggs in your hooha woo.

Because this is the every day and very real and often remarkably effective sort of magic I've been talking about on MeFi and throughout my life for... oh, dear, maybe three decades now.

I hate woo. I love evidence based science. I don't believe in tulpas or spirits. I don't believe in gods or deities of any kind, mono nor poly. I worship no icon or idols except perhaps the entire cosmos. I am neither master nor slave, full stop.

Well, there's some trees I'm rather fond of talking to, but they are trees, not spirits, idols or icons.

There's only one truly magical thing that I believe in that might even approach woo and it's that love is a thing and that there's a tangible energy to love. There's an energy in all living things. That this energy can be focused and amplified by consciousness, intent and awareness.

And that, at least to me, is very real and I'm very sensitive to it and it's as tangible as gravity to me, and to me this is the core of practicing magic or ritual.
posted by loquacious at 5:46 PM on January 29 [8 favorites]


Whenever anyone dismisses something as 'magical thinking', I think of the arrangements each of us accept every day in the form of money, a thing that takes on various tangible (cash, commodity) and intangible (accounting) forms, representing nothing except an assertion of its own value, that can also reproduce itself in the form of interest, and become institutional to human relationships, creating and breaking them, in the ritual forms-of-words (loans, contracts, receipts) we utter and sign with our names.

If money isn't fundamentally a magical artefact with its own spells, then 'magical' doesn't have a meaning.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:05 PM on January 29 [4 favorites]


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