By Frater Entelecheia
I’ve seen the connection between spirituality (particularly occultism) and mental illness pointed out many times over the years. It is a commonplace now to suggest individuals supplement the magical path with psychotherapy. I won’t bother naming anyone or quoting anything in connection with these ideas. We’ve all read the books and articles and have listened to the same lectures and podcasts. Nor do I intend to impugn these claims or suggestions whatsoever. But I cannot help but notice the irony.
Almost as far back as you can go in human history, healers are magicians, and magicians are healers. What does it say about the way we modern individuals approach our spirituality that it is more commonly associated with mental illness than with mental health?
I don’t mean just occultists (although I will concentrate on magic in this article). Western practitioners of spiritual arts of any kind are some of the most toxic, mentally ill people you will meet in your entire life. Anyone who has spent any significant time in any spiritual scene is all-too-aware of this sad fact.
The simplest explanation, and the one most flattering to ourselves, is that individuals who are ungrounded or emotionally imbalanced may naturally be attracted to otherworldly things such as spirituality or the occult. This may explain even the majority of cases. However, it is also possible that practicing spirituality on its own is causing mental illness in some individuals, and that rather than being an accidental occurrence, this result stems necessarily from our misunderstanding the original purpose of magic.
In ancient Greek culture, to be a healer or iatromantis meant equally to be a seer or prophet, particularly a devotee of the god Apollo. People understood that the science and art of healing individuals came from the gods, and that one of the primary uses of magic was to heal people. A glance at the PGM reveals many spells for healing physical and emotional ailments of all kinds.
Paracelsus, the man widely thought responsible for the “medical revolution” in the Renaissance, was an alchemist. His most famous dictum, “the dose makes the poison,” has roots in ancient Greek magic. The Greeks used the same word—phármakon—to denote a medicine or a poison. A phármakon applied wisely could work miracles, but the same phármakon used unwisely would destroy. And as any iatromantis knew, wisdom came from the gods and in fact was a deity herself.
Of course what I’ve said here about iatrikos could be said with equal force about any divine gift. Although we tend not to think of them this way, reason and science are also gifts of the gods. They were brought to us westerners from another world by ancient seers like Heraclitus, Parmenides, and Empedocles. And like any phármakon, we can perceive the results that occur when we use them unwisely, without consciousness of their original purpose. Mass extinction and global warming are only the most drastic results. We must also include the pernicious effects of leveling and hyper-democratization.
And here we return to where we started. It’s a commonplace nowadays to claim that “MAGICK is for ALL.” There’s no end of books, websites, or courses teaching magic in one form or another. Most of these teachers work from the assumption that anyone can learn how to do magic. It’s just a question of applying the right technique. “Just do the work,” we are told. And maybe that’s sometimes the case. But as with all the gifts of the gods, there’s a catch.
The catch is that our healer-magician ancestors were not mere technicians. They were also seers and prophets. They knew not only the laws governing this world. They knew the laws governing the divine world as well. They practiced their art within the parameters set by the gods, whose voices they could literally hear. The iatromantis understood not only their self and the patient but also the cosmological whole into which both were fitted and derived their meaning and purpose. It was for the benefit of this whole of nature that the iatromantis was a servant. Thus understood, these iatric gifts from the gods benefited not only agent and patient but regenerated the world.
Nowadays we believe ourselves so much smarter than all this. We’ve progressed to the point where we know—just know—that everyone is equal. Anyone is suited to do magic. The alternative would just be too unfair. Anyone can learn anything, can develop any skill, if they put their mind to it. And these skills can be learned from books and courses you can download off the internet for only $150 for the whole year.
We haven’t bothered much with the alternative possibility, which is that these techniques—in those rare instances where they even work—are unsuited to the overwhelming majority of people who take an interest in them. These individuals do not have a deep enough appreciation for the structure of human and divine reality to use these gifts wisely. So rather than serving the cosmos with these skills, they instead try to serve themselves. They seek power for themselves. They seek knowledge for themselves. Maybe the best intentioned among them even seek wisdom for themselves. But because the true purpose of these arts is not understood, they cause harm rather than help in many cases. And perhaps the strong association we see between occultism and mental illness is simply the most immediate form this harm takes.
Nothing is more natural to we progressive modernists than to view everything as a technique, as just another piece of technology. We rarely spend any time seriously considering what the real purpose of any of this technology is, what it ought to be used for. We just buy and sell the newest gadgets and tricks without thinking about the ultimate purposes of any of them. “Do what works” is our maxim.
As for what purpose spirituality—especially spirituality in the west—was meant to serve, we don’t give it a second thought. In fact we consider it rather quaint nowadays to suggest that there even is such a purpose. Each person has their own, private, individual end, their own true will, their own, personal reason to exist. We’re far, far too enlightened to think otherwise. “Mind your own business,” as they say.
Everywhere else we see this principle of unfettered, atomized individualism applied—politics, the economy, medicine, culture, the environment, relationships—it’s an unmitigated disaster. But surely, we tell ourselves, it’s different here. All laws stop when we get to spirituality. Anywhere else, a person having their own reality, their own private sense of truth, would be a sign of derangement. But in this one case, rather than being a sign of something wrong, rather than causing a person to spin off into delusion and fantasy, it’s actually a sign of a very, very high degree of consciousness, awareness, “wokeness”.
How likely does any of that seem?
I recognize that what I’m saying is bound to be deeply unpopular, and even though I do not intend it, I know my words are bound to hurt or anger some people. I am also aware that what I’m saying contradicts many of the cherished premises of Thelemites. But at the same time, Crowley was familiar enough with the phenomenon I’m describing to give it a name. He called it “black magic”. When we approach spirits from a purely instrumental perspective, caring only about our own enjoyment abstracted from any higher spiritual aim, we are performing black magic.
We are also disrespecting the gods and should expect to pay a price.
The alternative is to return to magic’s source and original purpose, and in the process turn it back into a healing art. But this requires us to stop treating magic as just another piece of technology that anyone can purchase with enough money and leisure time. We need to stop opening doors to other worlds—sacred worlds which we do not understand or appreciate—for our own gain and amusement. We need to carefully consider why we do things and what all of this is for.
Enough pragmatism. We’ve had over a century of pragmatism in spirituality, and it has accomplished virtually nothing of worth. We’re as unhappy and listless as we were a hundred years ago, “tantric” sex and badly pronounced Hebrew notwithstanding. We flatter ourselves with our claims to power and wisdom, and meanwhile the Earth just continues to burn and burn and burn some more.
The best advice I can offer to anyone who is interested in magic is to just stop doing anything at all. Go to a sacred place—a temple or a quiet place in the woods if you can even find one anymore—and just lay down and die. Close your eyes. Don’t move, don’t speak, don’t think. If you have to do anything at all, just listen. Of all our senses, hearing could well be the most divine because of its ability to connect us with things that are far away but beyond sight.
If you can, listen beyond the noise in the room or immediately around you. Listen beyond the sound of cars or pedestrians outside, beyond even the sounds of birds. Listen for something so far away that you could never possibly hear it. When you are no longer listening with your ears but with your heart, then you are truly listening. Then you are at last attuning to that reality which our ancestors knew so well. Then at last you are learning the humility they once knew.
When and only when you have learned to listen this way, when you have learned to listen with your heart rather than with your intellect, then perhaps the silence will speak to you. Then perhaps you may be invited to become a servant of the gods. Only once you have heard the silent cry of this burning, bleeding, and broken world, then perhaps you are ready to become a magician and therefore a healer.
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