The Lunchtime of the Magicians
Do as Thou Will shall be All of the Law
“What is your aim in philosophy? To show the fly the way out of the fly-bottle”
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
“All anyone can do is point the way”
- Three Weird Sisters, ‘My Karma Broke Down’
“In this book it is spoken of the Sephiroth and the Paths; of Spirits and Conjurations; of Gods, Spheres and Planes, and many other things which may or may not exist. It is immaterial whether these exist or not. By doing certain things certain results will follow; students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophical validity to any of them”
- Aleister Crowley
The first thing to remember when considering the Hermetic tradition is that the symbol is not the thing itself. The map is not the territory, and this is not a pipe.
The second thing to remember is that, on another level, the symbol is exactly the same as the thing itself. Indeed, on one level it is more real, more true, than any object.
These two positions, like a substantial amount of the Western Mystery Tradition as it has gradually evolved and unfolded over the Aeons, are on a superficial level contradictory; thus is the way of such things. As various wits have put it, one of the reasons why it is so difficult to weed out the deliberate blinds and traps from esoteric philosophy is that sufficiently deep truth is indistinguishable from bollocks. That the pearls cast before sows become dust in the eyes of the profane is an inevitability, because within the initiatory system the mysteries simply cannot be approached by those who are not properly prepared for them.
Zero is Two; One is its own Negative; All is Nothing. Such are some of the foundations that we can grasp at through logic, and put into the words of rationality. But the deeper truth will always be transrational. Do we thus abandon rationality? No. We accept it as a tool, but must recognise too its limitations.
Truth is fractal and holographic, containing within itself all the self-similarities implied by the phrase “as above, so below”. What exists on one level of organisation, is reflected endlessly up and down any chain of being that one cares to posit. What is true of the individual is true of society; and what is true of society is true of the cosmos.
This is all to say – the symbols we use have meaning, and to manipulate the symbolic is to manipulate the actual.
For all that both Freud and Jung disagreed on the nature of the human mind, it is notable that their theories emerged from a fundamentally materialist-scientific position. Between Jung’s mystic speculation about the “collective unconscious”, and Freud’s ponderings on the nature of sexual neuroses and their underlying causes, there is agreement on one thing – all these phenomena of the unconscious mind are ultimately rooted in the physical structure of the brain.
The “brain-as-computer” metaphor is lacking in accuracy in a number of critical areas – because, fundamentally, brains don’t work on discrete packages of data isolated from context – but we can safely accept the model as being a good illustration of certain points, even if it is not technically correct. The true value in any model is in its explanatory and predictive power in any case. Reducing concepts to their most simplistic iteration – we can think of neurology as being akin to hardware, and the cognitive processes that run upon that neurology as being in some ways like unto software. A certain amount of these processes can be altered by environmental conditions; deeper, however is the unconscious mind, those parts of the human experience that find their physical bases not within the pre-frontal cortex but deeper in the atavistic structures of our mammalian and pre-mammalian ancestors. Consider these akin to firmware.
An archetype is a pattern of associations that exists within this mental firmware; a set of relationships between mental objects that are common within the human experience. The extent to which these are universal and persist between cultures and times is as yet an unanswered question – but not one which we need to come to a particular position on at this time. All that we need to be able to accept is that there is a commonality in human thought – whether an Akashic Record that crosses all times and places and contains all knowledge, or a series of interlocking psycho-social biases which are induced and activated through the processes of inculturation. In the former case, it seems that there is some room for flexibility and change in the way in which these are expressed and understood, even if this is merely the gradual evolution and unfurling of such processes across humanity’s neurological development; at the very least, to return to the computing metaphor, the capacity to flash the firmware seems to exist.
This is to say – our symbols persist, and run deeper than we are consciously aware.
It is no accident that the earth is associated so closely with the concept of a mother-deity, for it is the womb from which all life is born.
It is no accident that the sun is associated so closely with the concept of a father-deity, for it is the source of energy projected to the womb of the earth that allows life to develop.
The origins of our species tendency towards religion are obscure, and deeply disputed. Consider this, then, more in the manner of myth than history.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word slept in the Void that is neither existence nor non-existence, but is the negation of both these concepts. The Word knew itself not, for there was nothing which was not the Word.
Word divided existence from non-existence, something from nothing, itself from itself, that it might gaze upon what was not the Word, and thus come to know itself. And the Word said: “Let there be Light”, and behold, there was Light, projected outwards from the point of absolute unity, dividing all from not-all, creating all and not-all.
Time passed, and from energy came forth matter, and from matter came forth stars and planets. And upon one planet, came forth life. And after many stalls and false-starts, there came forth a species of ape possessed of a certain reflective quality; and as the Word had gazed upon itself and divided itself from not-itself, did the ape do likewise – and thus Humanity was created in the Image of God.
Humanity looked to the earth from where they had emerged, and gave thanks – for from the Earth did flow all life, every plant that grew, and every animal that roamed the savannah. Thus was the Earth a Mother unto Humanity, who gave forth all life, and to whom all life would ultimately return.
One might call this the Aeon of Isis.
Time passed, and nursed by their Mother, Humanity grew. They mastered the elements of Earth, Air, Water and Fire, and in time came to grow as does the child. And like any child, soon there came a time when Humanity could no longer be suckled by its Mother. Thus came about the greatest psychic trauma that Humanity would know – the separation of the babe from the breast of the Mother.
And Humanity built cities, and tilled the Earth to bring forth crops of their own, and brought the goat, the dog, the ox and all manner of other creatures into their power. And Humanity had grown, their settlements bustling with greater and greater numbers, yet with this growth came the discontents of civilisation, the discontents of adulthood. Nature would not provide sufficient food uncoerced by toil, thus toil and coercion became the norm; Pestilence, War and Famine became concerns above and beyond anything that had been known before. And Humanity learned of Death, and were greatly afraid.
And Humanity, afraid of the Earth that seemed now to withold Her nurture from them, looked to the Sun, that remote giver of life, and found therein their Savior.
The Sun which passed into darkness each night to return each morning. The Sun which, by its movements across the yearly sky, did determine the times of plenty and the times of famine, which did determine the lambing of the sheep, the growth of the corn. The Sun which, by its ineffable power, would preserve Humanity against a world that had rejected them.
Thus was the Sun a Father unto Humanity, His potence equal only to his remoteness. His movement a circle, always onward yet always returning, conquering death and bringing life.
One might call this the Aeon of Osiris.
His symbol would be the circle – and most of all, the circle divided fourfold, marking the times of his birth, the apex of his power, his death, and his reconception within the underworld. The cross would become likewise a symbol of this concept – the mythic resonance of the death upon the cross of the sun of Jeshua bar-Joseph, that most archetypal of solar-heroes, is perhaps no quirk of Roman tastes in execution – as would one other:
A fourfold tumbling wheel, spinning as the sun about the axis of the world (as it seemed in those days), or the world about the axis of the sun (as one familiar with the works of Copernicus would assert); and by that self-similarity that exists at every level of reality, spinning as the solar system about the galactic centre, as the galaxies about the centre of the cluster, as all about the Axis Mundi, the Axis Universalis.
That symbol would etch itself deeply into human consciousness across many eras, appearing across continents, every time with meanings not so far-derived from this central conceptual core. And in more than one system of deep esoteric philosophy, it became associated with that central One, the absolute, the pivot of the universe.
Within the tradition that emerged from the intersection of Greek Neoplatonism and Jewish Kabbalah, it was associated with Kether – the crown – the absolute and apex of all.
This is all to say – that the swastika was first and foremost a solar symbol, and a symbol of the universal order.
One of the keystones on which the historical success of fascism is built is the effective manipulation of symbols. When people speak of the Occult Reich, nine times out of ten they are talking utter bollocks; but as with all great delusions, there is a small nugget of truth at the root of it. Discarding Hess’ astrological obsessions and Himmler’s runic posturings and paring the concepts right down to their simplest level – the Crowleyan assertion that any deliberate act of Will is Magick, and the collorary provided by the Hermetic tradition as a whole that this particularly applies to the manipulation of symbolic reality to produce changes in physical reality – the Third Reich was a magickal project as much, if not more so, than a racial-political one.
In this sense, it has left a greater mark upon the human psyche far greater than its impact on the physical world, or even upon the world of political concerns. Without wanting to downplay the horror of the holocaust in any way, or getting embroiled in the endless apologetics of “which-dictator-was-worst”, it is worth considering the reasons for the psychological impact of such things being so much greater than, for example, the destrution wrought by the Mongols that killed perhaps 5% of the entire world’s extant population.
To hijack an over-used saying, “the medium is the message”. The way in which the atrocities of the Nazi Germany were carried out reveals its own psychological content – an ugly, bitter and vitriolic part of the psyche that Jung called the “Shadow”, was made manifest in the rhetoric and actions of the National Socialist state apparatus. This thesis is particuarly well-laid-out in Wilhelm Reich’s “The Mass Psychology of Fascism”, a remarkably insightful text by the Freudo-Jungian psychoanalyst who would later earn the dubious honour of being expelled both from the Communist Party and the International Psychoanalytic Association, and later still become embroiled in a long and drawn out legal battle with the Federal Drug Administration which saw, in a final irony, the majority of his corpus of works being seized and burned by the American government.
But enough on Wilhelm Reich himself, for as fascinating and tragic as his story may be, it is not the matter at hand so much as his work is.
In Jungian psychology, the Shadow is an archetypal form which represents all the parts of the Self that one consciously suppresses in order to attempt to form a coherent self-image. Crudly, one might think of it as being composed of all the parts of ourselves that we do not – cannot – acknowledge the existence of. To see the Shadow as the “evil twin” is perhaps an oversimplification, though undeniably there is great evil contained within it – like it or not, we are all capable of commiting truly horrific sins of commission or ommission, and of rationalising them as being not only morally permissible, but as being morally obligatory, given the right externalities.
Reich’s thesis was a simple: that fascism’s appeal rested on its ability to hold the collective Shadow of a populace, with all the insecutrities and neuroses that lie within, and project it onto an archetypal Other, especially that Other which exists invisibly within society, as the Shadow exists invisibily within the mind. “Blame not yourself for your failings”, says the fascist, “blame those who have betrayed you.”
This is echoed by certain later theories of Melanie Klein – particularly the so-called “paranoid-schizoid position” (which has little to do with paranoia or schizophrenia as such). This term is used to describe the infantile state of mind in which the ego cannot comprehend that “good” and “bad” are anything other than polar opposites, to such an extent where it is literally inconceivable that there should be any admixture of the two. When applied to the collective psyche of a group, this manifests in a potentially very dangerous fashion – all that is good and desired becomes associated with the ingroup, and all that is bad and feared becomes associated with the outgroup. This process cares little for consistency: consider the idiot crowing of the racist demogogue, praising the hard-working, culturally and physically superior nature of his kin whilst denouncing the hated foreigner as both genetically inferior and a force to be feared, a Schrodinger’s Immigrant superimposed between states of lazing around on benefits, and stealing the jobs of the native.
The greatest psychic danger of such things comes from another of Jung’s theories, that of enantiodroma. Again, this is a somewhat complex and oft-misinterpreted concept, which I won’t attempt to fully articulate here – at its root, it is the observation that all polarities contain their opposite, and furthermore, that in pursuit of a polarity, one will inevitably end up invoking its inverse.
Quoth Blake, ripe as ever with accidental qabbalistic meaning: “If the Fool persisted in his Folly, he would become Wise”.
Consider the dreaded Horseshoe Theory of political extremism as a deep oversimplification of this concept. Consider the French Revolution, and so many others, seeking liberty, egality, and fraternity, and ending in bloodshed and terror whose excesses were often worse than those of the regieme that they sought to overthrow. Consider the old adage that nobody ever got rich by not spending money.
This is all to say – that invoking the Shadow is a pact diabolical; one may gain the world, but one’s soul is surely forfeit.
Quoth Nietzche, ever misrepresented by his Dreadful Fascist Sister, “he who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster...”
How does one fight a monster, when that monster is you?
Rather, once one has reached the stage of such enantiodromic debasement that, upon looking in the mirror, one sees the image of the Devil staring back through the glass, it is the human tendency to see Devils in the faces of all around you.
The joke is often made that, whilst the Right seeks converts, the Left seeks traitors. But this is perhaps true only up and to the point where the Right has completed its pact with the devil, gnawed off its own shadow and cast it out into the world most utterly. It is perhaps unsuprising that when one’s ideology is built on heroic struggle in the face of one’s enemies, that one will tend to find more and more enemies as time goes on. It is perhaps ironic that, whilst first they did indeed come for the Communists, second they came for the Other Nazis. One might see the purging of the SA in the events known as the “Night of Long Knives” as being a cruicial point in the history of Nazi Germany – not necessarily for any specific political effect that this purge had, but for the absolute acknowledgement of the fact of the Enemy Within.
It is worthwhile noting that, whilst the Nazis certainly considered black people to be racially inferior to Aryans, there were few official policies on the matter, certainly in comparison to the programmes of mass extermination that were aimed at the Jewish and Roma populations, for example. Indeed, the most notable official action taken by the Third Reich against people of African descent was the forced sterilisation of perhaps five hundred mixed-race children in the Rhineland in 1937, most of whom had been fathered by black soldiers from French colonies in Africa, who had been occupying the region in the wake of the Great War. Note also the existence of such units as the Free Arabian Legion, a military force predominantly formed from ethinic African and Arabian volunteers, formed in 1941 with the express intent of using them to oppose French and British control of the Gulf states.
Consider also the convoluted and bureaucratic methodology use by the Nazis to define whether or not a person would be considered Aryan, Jewish or Slavic, relying upon often arbitrary criteria to determine who would be considered “sufficiently German” for their purposes.
A conclusion that can be tentatively drawn from such observations is that the primary target of the racial component of the holocaust was the “enemy within” - those of white or white-passing ethnicity who were seen as infiltrating and corrupting Germany from within, rather than ethnic groups that were more easily distinguished as non-white. Indeed, through this lens, one might see the external struggles of World War Two as being little more than a horrifically destructive side-show to the ideological horror within; the visible enemy being far less frightening to the mind possessed of the Shadow than those who lurk unseen, hiding behind every mirror’d face.
And thus the Sun turns dark.
Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani…
National Socialism was ideologically doomed from its inception, containing as it did the seeds of its own psychic destruction; yet, symbolically, it became immortal. It is no accident that “Nazi” has become a synonym for mindless, incomprehensible evil – in the Jungian sense it has become the perfect vessel for the archetype of the Shadow. So too have the symbols and the words associated with that cultic movement. In a very real sense, one might say that the psychic reality of the world has been changed by the events of a few short decades – how many would now dare to use the dreaded symbol of the Third Reich to indicate the Axis Mundi, the organising principle of the universe? And, if the symbol is now utterly corrupted, what of the principle it represents?
Consider the cross, once perhaps a universal motif of the solar formula of death and rebirth, now so strongly associated with one particular manifestation thereof, to the point that the essential doctrine which it represents has now become so well hidden that few would even care to acknowledge it. Is the meaning changed? The answer is, as so many things of this nature, to be found in duality. One the one hand, yes – because the myth of Jesus is not exactly the myth of Osiris, nor of Dionysus, nor Mithras, nor Attis, nor any other solar deity. Yet also, no – because whilst the specific has overwritten the general in the collective conscious, the archetype remains distinct.
What then of the swastika?
One might imagine the swastika to have become the exoteric equivalent of the esoteric symbol of the Black Sun, also integral to certain of the more mystical aspects of National Socialism; a symbol with a specific, and deeply sinister meaning, perhaps to be considered as the embodyment of the Shadow. It is not the Sun; it is not the Universe, yet it is both, in a very specific manner.
Or one might turn one’s thoughts to darker places, and consider the psychological implications of the organising principle of the universe being a symbol of suffering, fear, and bloodshed.
Then again… has this not always been so? Consider the Gnostics; consider the Buddhists; consider every creed that has spoken of the inherent state of humanity as being one of suffering.
Consider that the cross was, likewise, an instrument of torture.
This is, coincidentally, relevant to considerations of the fetishisation of Nazi imagery within the BDSM community, who have always on some level understood the power of the Shadow. Consider the submission of the Aspirant before the archetypal embodiment of Evil, their Heirophant a diabolical avatar of pain and degradation dressed in the ritual garb of an SS uniform. The initiatory formulae of the ancient mystery schools remain unchanged, though the forms that such patterns clad themselves in do mould themselves to take up the symbols most charged with meaning, reaching through to the Profane mind through whatever channels may present themselves.
In the End, there was the Word.
A reasonable gloss of the “magical word” of Abracadabra might be “it came to pass as it was spoken”. This is a very old, and very fundamental concept – many mythologies across the world contain the central theme that to speak, and specifically, to assign a name to a thing – is the fundamental creative act. That names have power is perhaps one of the few myth-themes that is universally present on some level across all cultures and all times.
Psychologically, one might consider all manner of theories adjacent to Sapir-Whorf, and note the growing corpus of neuro-lingustic research that implies a deep and abiding connection between the way in which we use language, and the way in which we percieve the world – even on a biological level. Simple examples abound – consider the increased ability to tell the difference between two very similar shades of the same colour that is found in native speakers of a language that has an abundance of terms for colour; or the subtle differences in memory formation and retrieval between native speakers of languages which use a relative directional system (“the table is left of the chair”), and those which use an absolute directional system (“the fork is north of the spoon”).
What then of our symbolic language?
Vi Veri Universum Vivus Vici
Love is the Law, Love under Will