Responses to Carl McColman's Nagging Questions About Magic, Truth, Initiation, Mystery, Paganism, etc.
Via WildHunt Blog
Carl McColman is a Pagan-turned-Catholic author who still muses about the nature of Spirit. His questions are in bold type, my answers in normal. These are my opinions. I could be wrong. Also, I retained his original spelling of “magic” but use the traditional “magick” in my answers because that has a very specific meaning for me.
• What is the difference between magic and science? Can such a distinction be measured or otherwise quantified?
The only difference is time. Yesterday it was magick; today it is technology; eventually, it will be Quantum Physics. It’s all different way’s of saying that you recognize natural principles and work with nature to create a desired result. It’s the result that counts. The label I put on it will vary according to whom I am speaking to.
Can it be quantified? Not now, but perhaps in the future. I don’t think it’s important, but someone will and s/he will find a way to do it. I don’t have to be an electrician to flip a light switch.
• How does magic make a person's life better?
The more a person understands magick, the less they feel the need to do it. It is a part of being in the flow of energy that is the universe. We learn magick initially to understand that we are a part of it, and that we have the ability to influence it. As we grow, we understand that everything is connected, and we can create unintended consequences by being imprecise in our work. Finally, we understand that everything happens in perfect time, and there is rarely a real need to work magick if we are in harmony with our Mother.
• How does magic create a saner, healthier, better society?
By making us aware of our connection to each other. By making us know that everything we do comes back to us. By keeping us in touch with the divine in ourselves and each other. By giving spirit and energy to intangibles like poetry and art, making them palpable and real.
• How does magic benefit squibs and muggles— that is to say, people who lack magical ability, or who don't want anything to do with magic?
It doesn’t, but their lack of magick makes their experience of life poorer, and their unintended misuse of their own energies creates numerous problems that the rest of us have to clean up. To be attuned to one’s own energy is to be fully alive. To neglect or ignore that energy creates discord, illness, conflict. Magick is the most necessary thing in the world right now. A person empowered cannot be enslaved or exploited.
• Is there a viable form of Paganism that does not include magic?
None that I know of, but I suppose it’s possible. I don’t think it’s desirable, though. The whole point is to honor and direct our own connection to the Life Force. Why would I choose to live without that? I know that magick is discouraged in monotheism, but that’s so that power is reserved to priests and kings - I have no intention of being a slave to any favored ruling class. There’s a reason slavery is mentioned specifically in the Charge of the Goddess. “A Witch bows to no man.”
• Chaos magic is the most "postmodern" form of magic. Its creed is "nothing is true, everything is permitted." I see this is nihilistic libertarianism. Am I on to something, or am I missing something? I also think it is ethically dangerous. Thoughts anyone, pro or con?
Chaos is a power in and of itself. I think it is unwise for people to dabble in it as a practice, and I think it is foolish to think that you can act without consequence. We are in a vast sea of energy - what we send out will always splash back on us. People who think this way need to spend more time in the water, and think about energy that way. No one exists in a vacuum.
• Why should we believe the claims of Witches who say they hold a longstanding lineage, especially in the light of scholars like Ronald Hutton whose work strongly suggests that many so called Witches are frauds?
There wouldn’t be scholarly evidence in most cases of true lineage. One should approach everyone with a healthy mix of skepticism and respect. I will take a person’s claims at face value, but I will evaluate that claim by my experience with them and my knowledge of them. People will always claim we are frauds, and that we do not exist. There have been vast movements that have attempted to erase our Herstory. It is a waste of energy to try and “prove” ourselves to those who have a professional or personal interest in conflict with our own. I know who I am - whether someone approves of my pedigree or not is of no importance to me.
• What is the difference between secrets and mysteries?
I’m sure someone has vastly detailed and conflicting definitions of both, but who cares? Those who want to invest time in such semantics are welcome to do so. They’re missing the point, but that’s on them.
• Why are oaths of secrecy so important to initiation?
To keep us alive. There have always been people who are jealous of any strength or power we might have, or that they imagine we might have, and some of them will do us harm. When we are out numbered and feared, secrecy is a necessity. In times of relative openness, we have an obligation to educate as many muggles and cowans as we can in hopes of being driven back underground with violence.
• Christianity teaches that those who do not receive Christian initiation (i.e. baptism, being "saved", the Eucharist, etc.) are at greater risk of not receiving the Beatific Vision. What do Pagans and ceremonial magicians believe is at stake with their initiations? In other words, what do those who don't get initiated miss out on?
Nothing. It is simply a declaration of your intent to follow a particular path. A promise you make to yourself and your concept of the divine. I do believe an initiation is forever, though. I don’t believe it is possible to renounce. Once you take your oath, you are Witch and always will be in all of your lifetimes.
• Does objective truth exist? Objective right and wrong? If the answer is yes, then how do we find it? If the answer is no, then what holds society together?
Probably. The process of getting there is the whole point. What holds society together is the fact that we are not separate. We are parts of a unified whole that works best when all of us are in harmony. Conflict among us is an illness in the larger body. We are social animals that function best cooperatively.
• What is the relationship between myth and truth (if truth can be said to exist)?
That’s for each of us to decide for ourselves. Myth can express truth, or it can express fear or hope. Does truth exist - of course, but we may or may not be able to know what that is while incarnate. We find good things by looking for it, though, and harm ourselves and others when we ignore it.
• What is the relationship between power and responsibility? Is there a place for noblesse oblige in the world of magical ethics? On what grounds?
I’m a great believer in Noblesse Oblige. If you can do better, you have an obligation to do so. If you have more than you need, it is on you to share what you have. This is part of being human - the best part. Selfishness, greed, jealousy are all illnesses caused by the delusion/illusion of separateness. We function best in cooperative matriarchies that honor our connection to the Goddess.
• Postmodern philosophy suggests that the only truth that exists is the truth found within; i.e., subjective truth. What kind of society can we truly expect to build in a world where only subjective truth is real?
A fine one if we honor each other’s subjective truths as we do our own. It’s not for me to judge your connection, nor you, mine.
• What is the difference between magic and mysticism? Hint: I think the answer to this question lies in the difference between Iamblichus and Pseudo-Dionysius.
This is the kind of semantic game I expect to find among ceremonial magicians. It doesn’t mean anything in terms of energy. It’s an intellectual exercise at best.
• Many spiritually minded people in our post-modern world are karmic reincarnationists, which is to say, they believe in past/future lives, with an ethical component that suggests our choices (for good or ill) will have consequences for us at some point in the future. Where do reincarnation and karma lead us, ultimately? Is there some form of eternal paradise? Is death ultimately final (say, when the universe implodes)? Or will the cycle simply repeat indefinitely, eternally?
Ultimately, we return to She who gave us life. Does it continue? Does it matter? When we live well, we make Her stronger. The quality of our lives becomes the quality of Hers, so I suppose it’s up to us how long it lasts.
• Is there only one soul, and all beings are refracted manifestations of that essential one? Or are there infinite discrete beings? Or a finite number of discrete beings, who live cyclical lives over the course of time?
All of the above. Now, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? All Gods are Goddesses and All Goddesses are one Goddess and we are all a part of Her. Divide it up any way you want and She’ll take the form you’ve chosen - but you chose it. We try to give form to the formless and know the unknowable, then we forget that the map is not the territory.
• Does free will exist? If so, what difference does it make in terms of how we understand the cosmos? Magic? Right and wrong? Community ethics?
Absolutely. It’s the reason we’re here. The difference it makes is that we can do better if we choose to. We can make life better, the world stronger, and be strengthened in return. Or not.
Magic, right and wrong and community ethics are all the same. We can only do to ourselves. Everything we do comes back. What do we want? What do we send out and then receive?
• Life seems to require balance: for example, we all have to find the right balance between self-gratification and self-denial for the sake of our relationships, community, and long-term benefits. Many other examples of the importance of balance could be shown. How do we go about determining the best, most rational, most magical "balance point"?
The love of balance is a patriarchal concept that doesn’t occur in the natural world. Balance can also be stasis, stagnation. It implies even numbers and nice neat equations. Life is more complicated than that. Think of it as harmony, each part fulfilling an individual purpose that contributes to the gestalt that is life. Reason has little to do with it - this is an intuitive process that will flow naturally if we get the ego out of the way. We know when we are in harmony, we know when we aren’t. Just be still and listen.
• Who created the gods? Does it make any difference how we answer this question (in other words, is there "truth" regarding the gods)? Why or why not?
Those dancing angels again...
• Should I honor a god or gods whose values or moral choices I reject? Why or why not?
No. You should do what feels right to you, and allow me to do the same.
• Should I fear the gods? Why or why not?
Should you fear gravity?
• Paganism and magic are disciplines of experience rather than faith. Would you agree with this statement? Why or why not?
Paganism and magick are the natural functions of a healthy human being. They’re a combination of intuition, reason and ecstatic revelry. They celebrate potential, rather than put faith in dead dogma, so yes, they are experiential, but discipline is only a part of the equation. Wildness is essential, too.
• I've had people close to me tell me that it was a good thing I became a Catholic, since I was a "bad" Pagan. But does it make sense to draw distinctions between "good" and "bad" practitioners of Pagan spirituality? If we draw this distinction, what separates the two?
These are value judgments. The only distinction is in a person’s head. If you abuse magick, you get a nice kick in the ass from the Universe. If I am true to myself, it doesn’t matter if others label me a good Witch or a bad Witch. I lose myself when I start to care what others think of me.
• We live in a society that idolizes egalitarianism. I believe this is why so many of the people who achieve greatness in our society are actually quite mediocre: George W. Bush is a mediocre president; Bill Gates is a mediocre computer scientist who sells mediocre products; Britney Spears and Ashley Simpson are mediocre entertainers, and the list could go on and on. Meanwhile, we settle for a mediocre quality of life, filled with mind-numbing commutes, mediocre food, mediocre religion, mediocre work experiences, mediocre entertainment. Is there a place for true greatness in the world of magic and paganism? What does it look like? How do we encourage it among the few who are truly gifted, without "putting down" everyone else?
First, we eliminate that either/or thinking of patriarchy. You can encourage talent in individuals without diminishing anyone else. Think inclusively, rather than exclusively. This culture teaches us to defer to mediocre leaders because of money or position. We don’t have to do that if we stop valuing money and position. If we value peace, cooperation, beauty, art, then those who practice them are the people we empower.
I don’t settle for mediocre religion, work experiences, entertainment, food or anything else, and I have much more limited choices than most people. I choose to have wonderful, visionary friends. If that means I spend a lot of time alone, so be it. I seek out wonderful experiences when I can, create wonderful meals for myself, surround myself with things that I love. A mind-numbing commute can be a chance to meditate - I met a spirit guide on a bus ride one day, quietly, discretely, and it/they have been with me since. We have so many avenues to enrich our experiences now - it’s completely possible to live a glorious, hedonistic life if you insist on quality. I have to have inspiration - I have no patience with mediocrity. People accept less because they’ve been conditioned to accept it. They can step out of their cages the minute they realize - or someone helps them see - that they are in one.
Is there a place for true greatness in the world of magic and Paganism? I can’t think of any place more suited for it or conducive to it. The whole point of being Pagan is to step out of the “herd mentality” and reject the “sklav moral” of the masses. We honor ourselves as divine. We dare, we demand, we trip, we fuck, we breathe, we live as “One with the Goddess, in glory and power forever, so mote it be.”