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Magick, Yoga & Phenomenology

Magick, Yoga & Phenomenology

by Robert Prince


This essay examines the similarities between Magick, Yoga and the philosophical method known as “Phenomenology.” These similarities will be discussed in relation to the yogic model of psychology ,as set forth by Pantanjali, many centuries ago.  Pantanjali’s “Yoga Sutra’s” is the first systematic text on yoga psychology in which yoga is explained in terms of controlling or managing the “vrittis,” or modifications of the mind. (1)

Pantanjali’s “Yoga Sutra’s” define yoga as, “restraining the mind-stuff(chitta) from taking various forms(vrittis). In other words, an individual’s train of thought is flowing off the sensorium that is perceived or modeled by the five senses.(2) Pantanjali’s classic summary of yoga, “chitta vritti nirodha” roughly translates as “yoga is the suspension(nirodha) of the fluctuations(vritti) of thought(chitta)”. Thus nirodha is a rigorous meditation technique the goal of which is a purified perception(purusha) untainted by mental conditioning or habits such as present passions, future desires, or past impressions(karma). Nirodha is the route to attaining a pure consciousness(samadhi), which lies beyond the psychological mind(chitta) and envelopes the division between perceiver and perceived. As pure self-evident knowledge, samadhi can only be occupied by the practitioner but never described, for to do so would be to turn the experience into an object and hence distort its meaning.(3)

Although the methodology of Yoga is very different from that of Magick, they lead to the same destination. Crowley elaborates on this contrast in method in “Equinox Volume One, Number Three(pg 143), “To learn how to Will is the key to the kingdom, the door of which contains two locks, or rather two bolts in one lock, one turning to the right and the other to the left. Either pile up the imagination with image upon image until the very Kingdom Of God is taken by assault; or withdraw one symbol after another until the walls are undermined and the “cloud-capped towers” come tumbling to the ground.” In the same Volume of the Equinox, Crowley continues to expound on the method of Magick, “The senses and faculties must share in the work, such at least is the dictum of Western Ceremonial Magick. And so we find the magician placing stone upon stone in the construction of his Temple. That is to say, placing pantacle upon pantacle, and safeguarding the one idea by means of swords, daggers, wands, rings, perfumes, suffumigations, robes, talismans, crowns, magic squares and astrological charts and a thousand other things, ideas and states, all reflecting the one idea; so that he may build up a mighty mound, and from it eventually leap over the great wall which stands before him as a partition between two worlds”.

Referring back to the psychological model of yoga, the magician is seeding the chitta with thought forms – to cause change in conformity with Will – using symbols, incense, colors, sounds, etc. In other words, the magician is employing sensory phenomena (vrittis) to impress the idea upon the chitta or mind. At this point, the magician has begun to consciously program his/her psychology rather than remaining in a passive feedback loop between external phenomena and conditioned samskaras(The word samskara means tendency or habit. After enough similar impressions in the chitta coalesce, they become habitual psychological reflexes). Magick is a gimmick to reorient the trajectory of the psychology  of the individual by consciously manipulating thought forms. It should be remarked that in very advanced stages of spiritual practice even these seeds of consciousness must be transcended(at the level of samadhi called  “asamprajnati” or samadhi without seed in Pantanjali’s system).

So how does the philosophy of phenomenology accord with Yoga and Magick? Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, it’s being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object(**Will**).  The types of experiences  studied by phenomenology include perception, thought, memory, imagination, emotion, desire, social activity and linguistic activity. The structure of these forms of experience typically include what the philosopher Husserl called “intentionality,” that is the directedness of the spirit towards certain objects in the world or states of consciousness.(5)

Phenomenology in general seeks to comprehend the perceived or lived world prior to metaphysical categorizations. This is made possible by a radical method of reflection known as the “phenomenological reduction” or epoche` perhaps best explained as an absolute suspension of belief, doubt or any kind of pre-supposition about the existence of the world and it’s objects. Earlier comparative studies of phenomenology have stressed this particular aspect of phenomenology first set out in Husserl’s early transcendental approach as convergent with yogic meditative practices. Certain aspects of the yoga literature show a consonance with the epoche of transcendental phenomenology – this is especially evident in Pantanjali’s “Yoga Sutra’s” where the Sanskrit term “Nirodha” can be shown to approach closely Husserl’s epoche. It also seems like there are close correlations between Crowley’s idea of “the voice in the silence” and Nirodha.

In a remarkably similar manner Husserl distinguishes the “hidden I” of transcendental subjectivity from the psychological ego that is still immersed within the subject-object bifurcation. Like Pantanjali, he advocates a transformation of the mental structures that inhibit clear perception in order to develop a reflexive, witness consciousness toward our process of perceiving the world. Built into both theories is the ideal of a pure consciousness that remains a residue of this methodological cleansing process. An a priori or pure subjectivity distinct from an external, objective world. (6)

(1) Yoga: an instrument of psychological transformation – Dr. L Bhushan

(2) Yoga Sutra’s – Pantanjali

(3) Inspiration and expiration: yoga practice through Merleau Ponty’s phenomenology of the body – James Morley

(4) ibid

(5) Equinox Volume One, Number 3 – Aleister Crowley

(6) Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy


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