It is not your fault

There is a harrowing feature of New Age thinking which is a spin-off of the idea that you design your universe in your head. The concept touted in the Kybalion is that if the universe is mind and you are mind, then you create your universe with your thoughts.  You can be anything you want to be if you visualise and think positively.

But the converse of this is also true – if there is something wrong in your universe New Age thought is that it is because you put it there.

A psychologist friend of mine once said that while he rather liked New Age people, he did notice that there was a strong element of self-blame amongst them. When trauma counselling he had to overcome the belief that they were somehow responsible for the terrible things that happened to them.

No-one wants to be raped

One woman, who had been raped by her boyfriend, could not accept that she did not cause the problem by unconsciously choosing such a person in the first place.

She told him: “If I am the author of my own story, I must have chosen him to be in my life.  It is my negative thinking that created him.”

New Agers will apply that concept to other people and turn themselves into victim shamers. A poor person is only that way because they are not positive. They could leave that situation if they choose – they do not desire it enough.

Westcott appeared to be visualising everyone around him dying – including himself

This concept manifests in the judgement of some significant magicians who died in poverty or terrible illnesses. The idea is that they could not have been good magicians if they had such terrible lives. Had Wynn Westcott been better at visualising his family would not have killed themselves and he would not have died of Bright’s Disease. If Samuel Mathers had been a good magician, he would not have always been poor and survived the Spanish flu epidemic.

Like many things New Age, it is all propped up by a little bit of truth surrounded by overly simplistic thinking which ultimately drags down the whole idea. It is true that some people are so limited in their thinking that they cannot escape the patterns they have created for themselves. People do pick the wrong people in relations (normally due to a poor relationship with their parents). While it is true that visualisation is part of magic it is NOT the main game, but one of many limited techniques.

Bloody Kybalion

One of my first problems with the Kybalion, which annoyed my BOTA seniors, was the system depends on it all being about you. If my universe is the creation of my thinking, then other people are not involved.

If a murderer enters my life, it is due to MY visualisation and not his. This narcissistic view of the universe encourages you to only care for yourself. Other people, if they exist, are just bit players, but they are centre stage. But if everyone is visualising then somehow all these narcissistic worldviews must mesh together into a model which provides everyone with what they want.

But it doesn’t. If there is a lottery for a million dollars, there will only be one winner and many hopeful, positive thinkers. What is more, the winner is unlikely to be a positive person who knew they were going to win.

No-one asks to be raped, wants to be murdered, shot by police or die in a fire.

So what goes wrong?

The universe is not an expression of one human mind but that of the One Thing. The objectives of the One Thing are to learn about itself. Within its big created universe it built a humanity program in which it could experiment with stories involving more abstract qualities within itself like love, hate, war, online-shopping etc.

Each human has been given a story to live out with specific events which must happen for the One Thing to understand that point.

What is important to understand here is that the One Thing is doing this to itself. There is not a single thing you have experienced in your life which is not the One Thing experiencing it. Equally, there is nothing which could bring about these experiences in your life without some coordination from the One Thing. Since you are part of the One Thing, you are doing this to yourself to learn something. Once you have learnt that lesson, you may, or may not move on from it.

The easiest way for this story to happen is to be born into a family, country or social group. No New Age visualiser can claim that they were visualising on the astral and were responsible for their family.  Your first acts as a child are to adapt to that environment. So, a poor person’s attitudes are not negative thinking, but an evolution, or adaption to the situation they find themselves. It enables them to survive the terrible circumstances in which they find themselves.

That family will arrive with all the psychological baggage and genetic illnesses and pre-dispositions of its ancestors.  Something else that the child can do nothing about other than live through it and adapt.

Stories are not entirely written by you

On top of this, the child must resolve the story that the One Thing wants to learn in that life.

However, that does not mean that a person cannot use magic or visualisation to escape that life. There are many “rags to riches” stories where that happens. All of them require a person to fight their way out of their social status and DNA. But such stories are not for everyone. Some stories involve making the best of a bad situation; other stories include living your life no matter what it throws at you.

One of the things I have noticed about magicians is that all the good ones have had interesting lives. Even those who have had successful muggle lives (family, job, mortgage) have interesting stories beneath the surface.  Mathers might not have been that successful as a human or as a money maker, but he certainly lived. Aleister Crowley was a spendthrift, sexist, racist, bastard but no-one can deny that he had a life packed with exciting events and stories.

The sort of life I am describing is not entirely deterministic. Your response to those situations are what interests the One Thing.  A bad thing might happen to you which you choose to handle in a way that resolves it better. A person who deals with her rapist by facing him in court might lose, but her choice to take him on might help her deal with the pain and prevent her attacker doing it to someone else.

However, it does mean that the Kybalion is wrong. Bad things do happen to good people because the evolution of humanity and the divine spirit depend on it.

The One Thing is doing it to itself

But there is also an important social side to all this. If harming others is the One Thing inflicting pain on itself, doing “good” is also the One Thing helping itself.  When you help another person with their story, you are effectively helping yourself.  When you receive help from another, you are receiving it from the Universe.

If you don’t receive support from the One Thing, then chances are your story is to sort it out on your own and you have the ability and resources to fix the situation. For the same reason, you cannot judge another person for resolving their story in a way or failing.

The Magician is a specialist

The other question then is what is the role of the magician in this story? A magician is a specialist who uses spiritual forces and rules to create a change in the pattern or the story. They are there for when all else “rational” has failed. When the doctor or police can’t or will not help, when a situation needs to see the bigger picture or to call in gods and spirits.

A magician is no more important than anyone else in the story they are just the One Thing brings in more specialised functions. Not every story needs a Gandalf any more than it needs an Achilles. In Lord of the Rings, Gandalf was vital, in the Iliad he would have been useless.

A magician has their own story. It generally starts with initiation, balancing, contact with higher forces, testing and then service. During that process, a lot of shit will get thrown at them because it is part of their training. If nothing happened, then there would be no magic rituals to try out and nothing to learn.

Either way, the stuff which gets thrown at you, it may not be your fault.

Cognitive dissonance in the occult world

You would think that occultists would be at the cutting edge of thought and be ready to look and adapt to new ideas. In fact, new ideas are hard to come by and when introduced are met with a great deal of resistance. Some of this is down to the idea of preserving traditions, but mostly it is due to what psychologists call cognitive dissonance.

For those who came in late, cognitive dissonance is a simple theory which suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and behaviour in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). So, when something appears that is new, which runs counter to what we thought we knew, we will ignore it just to keep the balance right. My old teacher once said that people tend to believe the first thing they are told on a subject and find it difficult to let go of, and there might be some truth behind that (but it was the first time anyone suggested the idea to me so he might have been wrong and I refuse to give it up).

I first encountered cognitive dissonance in the occult community nearly 15 years ago when I was doing some research on the banishing ritual of the pentagram. In Western Magic this little ritual is used before any working. The ritual was developed by the Golden Dawn and was provided to every neophyte.  I looked at the paperwork given to neophytes throughout the long history of the Golden Dawn it was clear discovered that it was the invoking pentagram which was the main tool to be used to provide protection and the banishing was just a footnote (for when you were in unsafe space or under attack).

Israel Regardie: the Harry Potter years

I printed my findings and expected there to be either a change in the use of the banishing by at least GD types or at least a general discussion about it. While the idea was accepted amongst some Golden Dawn people, nothing really happened. People still ask questions about banishing on the various facebook groups. One person recently called into question my ability to teach because other (non-Golden Dawn) teachers, such as EA Groening insisted on the use of the banishing before any ritual. In short, I must be wrong because so many others said so. To be fair until I did some research on it, I would have said the same.

I tried to track back when the banishing superseded the invoking and found that it arose with the development of the psychological model within occultism. People like Israel Regardie favoured the banishing because it meant getting rid of complexes. The real Golden Dawn had long since passed into obscurity and so a tiny innovation in emphasis went unnoticed and there was no-one to complain. Regardie was hugely influential over most of the names of the 20th century magical scene. To many he was a font of knowledge of all things Golden Dawn. In fact, his Golden Dawn experience was limited and his ideas like the banishing, the watchtowers and his semi-tantric middle pillar exercise were all his own devising.

Another example of cognitive dissonance is the amount of emotion placed in defending the Kybalion as “hermetic” or having any real use in magic at all.  As I have written elsewhere, this New Age con trick is responsible for a lot of terrible thinking within the occult movement. The fact it suckered good minds like Paul Case, David Goddard, and even me for many years is no excuse.

Each of the seven principles that the book is based on can be pulled apart by basic philosophic or scientific reasoning. The fact it has survived so long is thanks to the lack of philosophic or scientific reasoning in the esoteric community and the amount of cognitive dissonance attached to it. Even those who admit it is flaky palm off their dissonance by claiming “there is some truth in it” (truth which they can never provide or if they do it can be soon pulled to bits).

When presented with the fallacy behind the Kybalion you can see people acting in full cognitive dissonance mode. They say:

1. I don’t understand it or have not studied it properly (I do and have).

2. They say it contains principles which have been part of Hermetics and Cabbalah since the beginning (they haven’t. You would think that a book that sums up hermetic thought might have a basis in existing hermetic thought but nothing).

3. They insist that the universe works like that anyway (it can’t. The Kybalion depends on an early 20th century view of science which has been largely superseded).

4. They claim that magic depends on it (which is odd because no work of magic before the Kybalion uses any of the principles.

5. They say I am stupid and don’t know what I am talking about, and smell of Nintendo (by this point the conversation is normally over).

There are loads of other situations in magic where cognitive dissonance places the brakes on esoteric development. Issues fought over in esoteric groups often break down to something that my teacher told me that I thought was true but turned out not to be.  There are many people who swear blind that astral initiation of a neophyte is possible because their teacher made a buck or two out of them without having to show up for the rite.

People like Jake Stratton-Kent have found it uphill work convincing people that you don’t really need a Tree of Life or a celestial view of the universe to get things done.

Aaron Leitch has angered those who follow African Traditions for pointing out that some of those traditions exist within the Solomonic tradition (he also may once have borrowed few of their terms, but it is not my tradition, so I can’t comment on it).

Cognitive dissonance prevents the evolution of magic. In older systems of magic, you can see an evolution of tradition thanks mostly because isolated magicians trained their students based on their own research. Printing affected that somewhat and enabled more unified ideas, but in many ways those systems have become unchangeable dogmas.

But ironically occult tradition is not about theology or dogmas but research. Because a grimoire has written down a spell, it does not mean it is going to work in the 21st century.It might have to be adapted. That adaptation needs to be tested to make sure it works.

That process is getting suppressed now as people try and drag systems down to something they are more comfortable and familiar. The internet makes this cognitive dissonance even worse because it echoes.