Art courtesy of resident artist, Oana Beatrice – @wannaarkd
Ever since my childhood, the question that I’ve obsessed over the most has been “What is real and what is not?”, mostly in relation to metaphysics. Having a Christian upbringing, I was certain that the God I learned about at school and church was the real deal and that everything else was just blasphemy.
However, even then I could also see how this Christian reasoning could be applied to other religions as well, and doubt inevitably arrived: “How do I know that I believe in the real God and the ones that are blaspheming are them, and not the other way around?” At the same time I had always been drawn to occult and spirituality based topics. Then, after a series of experiences I started actively learning about different esoteric disciplines. In particular, Chaos magic really seemed like a feasible approach to shaping the world around me, so I decided to give it a try.
Of course, all these doubts I mentioned earlier got progressively worse as I started practicing magic. As a magician, the first logical conclusion one can draw is this: if I call on the Greek god Apollo to do my bidding, and the desired results manifest, then Apollo himself must have been behind it, right? So does that mean Apollo is real after all? Where does that leave my Christian God who always told me that He was the only One out there? It gets even worse when the magical work involves fictional characters, as it is very common nowadays in pop culture magic. If I work with Cthulhu* in a successful way, does it mean he’s really out there in space waiting to take over Earth? Was Lovecraft some sort of channel connected to the Cosmic Horrors, trying to warn us about the menace lurking beyond Pluto?
For the practitioners dabbling in Chaos magic, the solution is very easy: who cares? The pragmatic approach of Chaos magic indeed releases one from this problem, and as long as a certain belief system is useful, there is no need to go further and think about its ontological implications. Today one can work with Roman deities and tomorrow go into deep religious ecstasy after worshiping Jesus Christ, with their mind still at peace with the otherwise obvious contradictions.
However on a personal level, I find it difficult to always wear the Chaos magician robe, and if I am not careful the seeds of doubt start sprouting in my unconsciousness. “What if tomorrow I can’t reach the ecstasy I’m looking for because Jesus knows that I have been working with those… other guys?”. Wouldn’t it be awkward if Jesus Christ knew you were invoking Cthulhu behind his back? They certainly don’t seem to get along very well to start with.
We all know how jealous certain entities can be. It is in these kinds of situations that I go back to the first question, because if Jesus is merely a “useful tool” for me to get what I desire, then why is He jealous? Is He more real than I acknowledge him to be with my pragmatic approach? Once again, I’m back at the start, my peace of mind is shattered and the results I am seeking from my practice diminish. I’ve found that it’s doubt that really throws me off balance and in turn affects my results.
There might be an answer to this problem involving complex constructs such as egregores that do not imply any kind of exclusivity between belief systems. However, from a logical point of view this always results in a circular argument that does not leave any room for clarification: “Entities that you work with exist because they are egregores, which are entities that exist.”.
After all, belief is a very subjective activity and there is no way to argue with someone that says they either believe something or they don’t. In contrast, I personally prefer a more empirical approach, leaving reasoning faculties behind and letting my feelings drive my practice. If I draw Ganesha’s energy in a ritual in order to help me get started with my new business, and I start feeling it right away then I must be doing something right. I do not know if Lord Ganesha is real or not, I just focus on what I feel when I work with him.
This might sound very similar to the pragmatic approach that chaotes generally follow, but the ontological difference is this. When the focus switches from the entity one works with to what or how it makes them feel, there’s a crucial difference.
Now the only question to be asked is the existence of one’s own feelings and emotions, and it’s rather easy to conclude that those are certainly there. In fact, this is an experience that we’ve gone through every day since we were born. Most of us are probably not aware of the complex chemical reactions and nerve impulses that happen in our brain and our body, but that does not stop us from realizing that the love we feel for our family and friends is real.
We do not even have to be in their presence to feel it: when we think about loved ones that have passed away we are literally facing a situation where the reason that creates the emotions is not in our plane of existence anymore, but the feelings they’ve created are undeniably real. This holds true for every other emotion we can feel. Have you ever become angry when remembering something that happened years ago that does not have any present implications in your life? That memory is nothing but a concept in your mind, but the feelings it inspires are very real!
The reasoning here is that our logical thinking might not be the best tool to describe situations that cannot be observed objectively, and magic certainly is one of them. During any magical working, the magician cannot remove themselves from the experience and so any information that comes from the process is consequentially subjective. When asking a perfectly reasonable question about it, such as “Was the entity I just talked to real or not?”, we are reinforcing the mechanics of logic onto it and only a binary answer remains valid. Natural evolution has made our brains understand the world around us in terms of radical opposites, either yes or no, black or white, 0 or 1. Clearly this approach works when all one needs to know is whether this food is poisonous or this situation is dangerous, nature sure did a hell of a job there. However, these reasoning abilities are of no use when it comes to the bigger picture.
Our feelings, on the other hand, are a much better tool to deal with the sort of subjective situations that arise in magic. Any experienced magician can confirm that magic only works when the practitioner believes in what they are doing, and certainly this is a perfect example of the message I am trying to convey here: it doesn’t matter who one prays to as long as they believe that the entity exists. As long as one feels the right way about what they are doing… It is possible to stop there, keep this as an axiom and live a happy life without ever looking back. For me, however, it also has some implications about the world we live in. If my feelings matter more than the “objective” reality of the paradigm I use for magic, what does that even say about such a paradigm?
This might of course be irrelevant if all one wants is to use magic for a very specific purpose, like finding a good job or getting laid. However, it could have a larger impact when thinking about magical growth. There are many traditions out there that follow very different paths towards “transcendence” or “enlightenment”, and finding out whether one should join a modern offshoot of the Golden Dawn or become a buddhist monk and go to Tibet might be a headache. On the other hand, when realizing that the trigger for an emotion is not as important as the emotion itself, one can find the universal truths in most belief systems and personal growth becomes possible from one’s own living room.
Personally, I find this approach to magic is the most helpful, and also the most natural, since it relies on the kind of mental activity we have been carrying out even before humans became humans. After all, it might be that reason and logic are not the most appropriate tools to approach the problem of existence. The answer to the question “So does Cthulhu exist?” might be neither “yes” or “no” but rather somewhere in between, or both at the same time!
In fact, we have already seen this kind of answer fail in nature before (ask that guy Erwin if his cat is dead or alive), so in my opinion there might be better options in our human-flawed toolbox to approach certain topics. In the end, our brains, as organs, are limited as well, so we might never be able to totally unveil the truths in our universe. But as any good Chaote would say, “Who cares?”