Friday, August 22, 2008

Gods, Demons and Imaginary Friends, by Philip H. Farber

When I first began my study of magick, almost thirty years ago, I was fascinated and bewildered by the numerous, often conflicting, systems for cataloging entities. Every school of thought and every religion offered a pantheon of entities, avatars, teachers, and earthly representatives. There were catalogs filled with icons, pantheons crowded with gods and goddesses, angels organized in hierarchies more complex than government offices, and demons lined up behind their bigger, badder brethren. Even the most ostensibly monotheistic religions still had lists of saints, prophets, teachers, legendary characters, and further subdivisions of their One True, yet nonetheless divisible, God.

All these systems were fascinating, of course, and I spent many days, weeks, months and years focused upon exploring them. I studied Jung’s Man and His Symbols, pored over Crowley’s 777, spread tarot cards on my living room floor, tossed coins among the piles of tarot cards, and created magic marker enneagrams, veves, and hieroglyphs. I soon found that a few of these entities had the ability to affect me in surprising ways. Some I found I was inexplicably drawn to – I wrote short stories and created tarot cards for the god Pan for many years, performed rituals involving Aleister Crowley’s triumvirate of Nuit, Hadit, and Ra-Hoor-Khuit and placed candy, rum and cigars on altars for Voodoo loas, for instance. Similarly some entities repelled me--although most simply did not touch me in any immediately significant way. But ultimately my question about all of these was, “Why this stuff?” The teaching was that these entities were symbols, archetypes from the collective unconscious--from a Platonic dreamworld in which the proper shapes of all things were stored.

I'm fine with the idea that our unconscious minds intersect someplace and that we share the common implicit information that is the world beyond our immediate awareness. It makes sense to me on a very practical level – that everything in the universe influences everything else, no matter how slightly or significantly and that information about everything is available everywhere, if we have the ability to decode it. That still doesn’t offer an answer as to how we came up with this particular stuff from among all the potential shapes and forms, gods, angels, demons and symbols of the unperceived world. What is it about that memetic complex that we call a god that makes it a god? How was this stuff first derived? I wanted to understand the nature of the gods and goddesses from books and esoteric lore that I had come to love – ultimately, I wanted to find a pantheon within my own life and experience.

After some years of contemplating this issue of the origin of archetypes, I decided that the emphasis on the "stuff" was only half the equation. The stuff – the names, shapes, clothing and bedroom habits of the gods – represents the content, the collection of ideas and perceptions that we circle in a metaphysical Venn diagram to delineate exactly what constitutes a particular entity. The answer to my question lay as much within the circle as in the hand that pushes the pen to draw it – or rather in the mind that guides that hand.

The question became, “What is it about a particular collection of stuff that fires off the part of my brain that recognizes it as something meaningful?” What makes the character of Ganesh recognizable to worshipers as a god, for instance? It’s a more complex question than it might appear on the surface.

The first level to be peeled back deals with how we recognize anything as conscious, as something with which we can communicate. An intuitive Turing Test performed by the unconsciousness mind seems to immediately categorize things into “conscious entity” and “inanimate lump.” We look at each other and, hopefully, we recognize one another as human and conscious and at least reasonably intelligent. Some very simple visual patterns, for instance, seem to fire off this sense of recognition – a smiley face, have-a-nice day symbol is recognizable to us as a human face; a South Park cartoon character can be identified with--for a half hour at a time--as a conscious entity with the ability to communicate, make decisions, and act-- however stupidly--upon the world.

Linguistic patterns also seem to have a similar ability to reveal the conscious state of an entity. A sentence formed with proper syntax suggests that its writer or speaker is possessed of some measure of intelligence. Based on such unconscious intuitions, we recognize writers as conscious entities when we read their well-formed sentences. We recognize other humans as such when we communicate with each other in text environments such as Internet forums. And we even recognize fictional characters as entities for whom we might predict behavior and sympathize. (What would Captain Kirk do?) There are many behavioral patterns and cues that help us to, unconsciously, tell the difference between a conscious entity and a brick of cheese.

This all made much more sense to me when I came across the concept of mirror neurons. These are physical structures in the brain which enable us to build predictive models of intelligence or consciousness. In effect, mirror neurons build models of entities and use our own consciousness as computing power to run those models. We look at another person and we a) recognize them as another person, and b) try them on for size to some degree. This suggests that mirror neurons are not only the operative force behind empathy, sympathy, and most forms of communication, but may also explain some of the phenomena involving gods and demons with which I was struggling to understand.

First, let’s demonstrate how mirror neurons work. The following exercises are excerpted from the Meta-Magick Invocation Workdbook (© 2008 Philip H. Farber, used with permission).

Watch Yourself Relax:

  • Imagine that you can see yourself, or hear yourself, or feel yourself, as if observing another person. Make it like looking at a movie or a picture of yourself. If you are better at hearing or feeling, then hear yourself talking or making sounds, or feel where your presence would be.

  • Imagine that this other self that you are observing is in a place that is very comfortable and very, very relaxing. It’s not necessary to see, hear or feel the place, just keep your attention on this other self.

  • Watch, listen, and/or feel as this other self becomes more and more relaxed, more and more comfortable, and exhibits the effects of relaxation: softer muscles, different posture, different facial expression, and so forth.

  • Make changes to the structure of the image (but not the content):

    1. Make the image larger or smaller

    2. Make the colors brighter or more muted

    3. Emphasize the foreground as opposed to the background, and vice versa

    4. Make the sounds or speech louder or quieter (if the emphasis is on hearing rather than seeing)

    5. Speed up and slow down the action (works for all senses)

    6. Move the image closer or farther away (works for all senses)

    7. Give the image a soft glow or sparkles

  • Notice any changes to your state as you experiment with these changes.

The above exercise deals not just with our ability to recognize entity-hood in our dealings with external stuff, but also with the things that we imagine, the dissociated images and entities that we create in our minds. The very (im)material that gods, demons, and imaginary friends are made from. Also notice how subtle changes in the form and quality of our internal image have the ability to change our response to the entity. Different configurations affect our consciousness in different ways. Making the representation larger or smaller, brighter or dimmer, etc., will often continue the process of making us more or less relaxed. Hopefully you found a configuration that was wonderfully relaxing.

Although the above excersise was about our self-image, it gives us a start towards finding clues to the anatomy of entities of any kind. And even better, we may notice some direct connections between the anatomy of an entity and our own states of consciousness.

Let’s consider for a moment our criteria for recognizing something as god or goddess, demon or angel. There are, generally, two major magical operations that involve these critters: invocation and evocation. Invocation is the drawing into oneself of a quality or entity; evocation is the externalization of a quality or entity. In a traditional invocation of Hermes, we might visit a temple of Hermes and contemplate his image, or recite a descriptive poem in his honor, or create a magick circle and bring into it only those things of Hermetic nature, so that we might become more Hermetic ourselves. In a traditional evocation we might summon a Goetic spirit into a triangle and question it about what would make life better for us or constrain it to perform some task for us to that same end. We perform these operations quite naturally in daily life, outside the context of magick or mysticism. When we are inspired by another person or a work of art, that is a kind of invocation. When we imagine conversations with people who aren’t present, or attempt to verbally convince our computer connection to go faster, we are engaging in mild forms of evocation.

Let’s say that, for the purposes of this discussion, our entities become useful when we can use them to perform invocation and evocation willfully and with well-defined intent. An entity suitable for invocation could, ideally, change you in some desired way by contemplating the entity and drawing it into yourself. An entity suitable for evocation would be able to impart information or perform tasks according to your will. In our Meta-Magical explorations, we hope to discover entities in relation to our own states and our consciousness, rather than necessarily learning some previous explorer’s version of a pantheon. (And when we all do this, perhaps we’ll find that we have many of these entities in common.)

As in the preceding exercise, we begin with an image of the self. Our hypothesis here is that a self image is the very essence of entity-recognition. It is our basic reference point for consciousness and can also help to reveal our own innate pantheons, the entities who already inhabit our world of consciousness. To change that image from our human self to that of a god, we have to tweak the parameters in order for that image (or voice or feeling) to rise to the level of something useful in invocation or evocation, something with the potential to change us through interaction.

Instant God(dess):

  • Decide on a quality that you either have and would like to enhance, or one that you don’t have and would like to acquire. For instance, creativity, compassion, patience, strength, assertiveness, financial skill, adaptability, understanding, concentration, flexibility, love, sex appeal, or whatever you decide upon. Make sure this quality is a positive one, that is, it is one that stands on its own and is not expressed as a lack of something else (for instance, “reduced stress” might be expressed here as “relaxation”, “no more bad luck” might be expressed for these purposes as “good luck” and so on).

  • Breathe and banish. Imagine a circle around yourself, at about the diameter of your spread arms. Sit or stand in the center of that circle. Fill your lungs completely, with a slow, even inhalation. As you inhale, allow your attention to expand to fill the circle. As you exhale, slowly, evenly, and completely, allow your attention to contract to a single point in the center of your chest. Repeat at least three times.

  • Create a dissociated image of yourself (an image, voice or feeling of you as if perceived by another person or in a recording), standing or sitting. Eliminate background and any accessories, objects, props, and so on that might be in your image, so that the image is just you.

  • Begin to adjust the physiology of the imagined person to include more and more of your desired quality. Pay attention to and adjust facial expression, posture, breathing, movements, skin tone, muscle usage and anything else that might pertain.

  • Adjust the structure of the image (submodalities) for greater impact. Experiment with image size, color depth and quality, image location, and special effects such as glows, sparkles, shimmers. Take each of these to its greatest intensity – for instance, the image could be increased to much greater than life-size. If this image were a god of that particular quality, how would these submodalities manifest? Just how big, bright, loud, strong and sparkly is a god(dess) of x?

  • Begin to add in extra features and aspects from other humans, from animals, machines as appropriate to a god(dess) of this quality. For instance, if cunning and strength are useful to this entity, give it some qualities of a tiger or other animal that might represent those qualities (head, body, teeth, eyes, whatever). If enhanced intelligence or processing speed is important, then maybe a computer chip or having a computer as an accessory might work. Take as much time as is necessary to test out some of these qualities. Notice which ones feel the best and keep them. Have fun with this and make your image fantastic.

  • Adjust physiology to account for the additions. If you added a computer chip to the brain, how would that be reflected in facial expression, breathing, posture, etc.?

  • Contemplate the image for at least 30 seconds.Pull the image into the circle with you and draw it into you. Wear it like clothing, wrap it around you, let it interpenetrate your body and mind. Let your own body, posture, breathing, facial expression, etc. reflect what you saw in this image. Let the memories of this (future) self who has already resolved this basic need be your memories. Breathe and banish. Be open to thoughts, epiphanies, and suggestions from your unconscious mind that may occur throughout the day as a result of this practice.

  • This exercise and the early one are offered here for demonstration purposes, to give some practical experience of the relationship between entities and consciousness. For the most part, entities produced or contacted in this way are personal ones, not necessarily god or goddess archetypes familiar to us from the astral storehouse of sacred images. However, sometimes they do rise to that level and first-time practitioners occasionally find themselves face-to-face with deities who offer names and abilities drawn from known pantheons and belief systems.

  • The exercises demonstrate an extremely stripped-down and basic mode of working. There are endless modifications and enhancements to these processes of deriving personal pantheons from our unconscious minds. At some point, they become much more than simple demonstrations of a point – but I’ll leave that, for now, to your own imagination and experience...

(...And before you’re off to read the next article, I’ll just note that to fully understand the point that this piece dances around, no matter how well you think you get it on an intellectual level, it is most likely necessary to actually perform the experiments. You have to look through the microscope and adjust the focus before you really know what a micro-organism is like. And it likewise helps to change the focus of your mind before you really understand the nature of the entities all around us, including gods, goddesses, demons, angels, imaginary friends, ideologies, corporations, schools of art, mass movements and those mysterious bipeds we call “human.”)

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