Can a magician be an atheist? Do I need to believe in God for magick to work? What is religion and how does it differ from magick?
Si Vales, Valeo
Thank you for writing. I get asked this all the time. I view Atheism as just another religious philosophy.
Let’s briefly touch on the meaning, similarities and differences between religion and mythology, as this will help me answer your question best.
Mythology (to quote Joseph Campbell, and in a lesser degree Carl Jung) is the “hero’s journey.” In other words, it is your journey and your experience with the Divine, Unconscious, Super-Conscious, God, The Universe, whatever. The only thing that matters is you, as an individual. You are the protagonist in your own story.
Religion, on the other hand is what happens when myth becomes codified in a series of expectations which arise from peer pressure and social currency. The spiritual experiences of adherents are scrutinized to see if they match the guru’s expectations and/or experience. This is what is killing Scientific Illuminism today.
Mythology serves a purpose in human evolution. In my opinion, it serves a much more important role than religion, which is little more than mythology codified as a one size fits all package.
So, what is Scientific Illuminism?
Crowley summed up in one sentence: “The Method of Science, the Aim of Religion” (Magick – Book 4: Part 1). The idea is not to simply accept spiritual phenomena as truth or real, but to study it and subject it to experimentation so that one can get beyond the experience through ones senses to the actual cause or source of the phenomena. In fact, Scientific Illuminism does not require belief or faith in any supernatural source. It requires a willingness to learn and use the scientific method and apply it to mythology and archetypal symbols with which humanity is connected via a thing Jung called The Universal Unconscious.
We are very much affected by ancient symbols. Even if we do not understand their meaning on a conscious level. I believe that originally magick began as a sort of survival method. An attempt to exercise some form of control over the helpless situations humans experienced in our early evolution. But eventually magick evolved into a form of primitive psychoanalysis, and whether that is true or not it is irrelevant. What IS relevant is that magick today is a way of understanding the True Self.
Everything should be recorded in a journal. Every meditation, ceremony, and prayer, along with its results. Also, what one ate that day, personal feelings interacting with other people, and so on. This allows the magician to test and retest methods that yield the desired results and to ignore the ones that have no effect at all. Everyone’s spiritual experience will logically differ from anyone else’s. But through the magical diary some of those experiences can be duplicated by other magicians using the same method. It is all very scientific and many find it rather boring.
Unfortunately, this Scientific Illuminism is forcing peer pressure, as opposed to peer review and is quickly becoming a sort of religion: A codified method expected to yield the same results as everyone else. Those that don’t fit into these predefined expectations are shunned or devalued. And if we put our guard down, we could eventually allow our human nature will kick in, which prioritizes being liked over being spiritual. Do you see the problem here?
Painted by such a wide brush, Crowley’s definition of Magick often confuses people. Much to the dismay of many, it is not at all like Harry Potter, which I might add are some of the most enjoyable books ever, and myth-making at its best. The word “magick” as we are describing it, above does not refer to any sort of supernatural practice because it treats the full human experience as natural. Even the parts we don’t yet understand.
Crowley defined magick as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.” He explains this further “Magick is the Science of understanding oneself and one’s conditions. It is the Art of applying that understanding in action.”
In other words, making a pig fly is impossible because it is not within the pig’s nature to be a flying animal. It does not have that potential. That said, given the recent experimentation scientists have done with DNA manipulation, we may one day see a flying pig. I jest, of course. I think. But this is an example of the often berated art of “magical thinking” creating a mission for science. Consider the original Star Trek series and the communicator may have shaped the early flip-phone, and McCoy’s tricorder was to become the tablet. Magick and Science have always been strange fellows, but bedfellows never the less.
So, does it really matter much what one believes, so long as it is life-enhancing? Does it matter whether or not Jesus existed? Only academically. Does it matter spiritually? Only insomuch as those thoughts can be compared to every other myth which has to do with the rising and setting of the sun. Birth, life, death, and so on.
As I see it, “God” is both matter and spirit. It is a source of infinite pure light, which has been divided and distributed to every living thing. Our goal should be to come closer to this divine source.
So where do I stand on the argument of religion vs atheism? I don’t. They are different sides of the same coin; different cheeks of the same ass. It is a stupid argument… one that doesn’t influence Scientific Illuminism one way or the other. But I will leave you with this last thing: People who do not believe in miracles will never experience one.