The "Dangers" of Magic

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R. Eugene Laughlin
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The "Dangers" of Magic

Post#1 » Fri Jun 15, 2018 11:54 am

This came up in another thread ( but it's a little off topic there, and it deserves a thread of its own anyway, so here it is.

On the practice of intensive self-examination (in the context of the Abramelin working)...

WolfAmongSheep wrote:I think that's where the danger is. A lot of people might not like what they find. Their idea of self doesn't match what the reality really is. At that point, their ego takes over and as aprotective mechanism to itself, causes self delusion. If one is going to do a long term working involving self examination. I would recommend working with a therapist that can help ground you in reality and guide you.

I disagree. From my perspective the ego construct that feels threatened and generates self-protective delusion is an old Freudian notion that has no empirical support after some 150 years. Fortune, Regardie, and a few others touted the benefits of Freudian-style analysis for anyone pursuing a program of spiritual development. I think a dialectic process of personal analysis might have value, but not if it's rooted in faulty Freudian concepts about the psyche and how it works. Mentors with a lot of personal experience, and teaching/guidance experience, would be much more useful than a psychotherapist in my opinion. That's an advantage of training within a well-established, high-functioning lodge or coven, but those are so rare these days. At any rate...

Here's a more current and more comprehensive understanding, assuming a generally healthy individual going in:

When the dangers of magic idea is based on shocking/frightening experiences and have lingering troublesome effects, as opposed to urban legend, the event(s) and the attitude that forms from the overall experience tend to involve the dynamics of fear. A rough analog may be a bad acid trip that was triggered by a background fear of taking acid. There are, of course, significant differences between drug and magic-related experiences, but a few similarities are worth mention:

When one is afraid they're 1) hypevigilant, which can be described as a state of heightened but broad-based attentional focus. Therefore, they tend to notice things that would probably be ignored under less stressful conditions; 2) they're more likely to interpret unexpected/non-ordinary things as a threat, and 3) memories of events that generate intense emotions are different from more routine episodic memories, in that they seem to be much more detailed and they're recalled much more vividly.

When the above dynamics are in play around genuine spirit-related perceptual phenomena, the unprepared individual may, proverbially, freak out. The aftereffects of a triggering event can linger for weeks, even months, and can be quite disruptive while they last. The astute reader may recognize some elements of PTSD in the above description, but I want to be very clear about this: I'm not describing a clinical syndrome; the above represent normal fear dynamics that operate in everyone under fear-inducing conditions.

There's another thing that's worth mentioning: in guided entheogenic work, like an ayahuasca ceremony, etc., part of the preparation includes drilling in the idea that no matter what scary thing happens, the subject must face it head on, must under no circumstances try to flea, hide from it, or try to avoid it in any other way. Instead, they must make every effort to understand the reason that it's happening, to find it's meaning, etc. A good guide tends to do very little during the trip, but they will have practiced a special word or a phrase with the subject beforehand, which they can use to help the subject stay on task if they start to panic.

In cases where the subject is unable to find the meaning of the frightening elements of their trip, the value of the experience tends to be minimized. The effects of the drug wears off of course, but unpleasant after effects can linger for day, weeks, sometimes months. Residual perceptual effects are common, and can induce fear-related feelings. Attentional and other cognitive effects are also fairly common. Sooner or later though, the effects diminish and the person gets on with their life. They are most likely changed by the experience and not necessarily for the better, but they do get on none the less. The salient point is that if they were healthy to begin with, they don't devolve into madness.

If something akin to a bad trip happens during a non-drug-related spirit experience, that can give rise to lingering effects too. Some turn their back on magic because of the initiating experience, and when that's the option, they tend to suffer the lingering effects for awhile, then like a bad acid trip, the person gets on. Those who stay with a magic practice, with or without help, find ways to manage as their practice continues and, usually, overcome the fear dynamics so that their experiences become useful. Where it might have been less arduous for them had they not succumb to their fears in the early going, they do get on.

About some of the urban legends around the idea that magic practices are dangerous, people going mad and such... it's worth recognizing that a hundred+ people a day in the U.S. die by their own efforts, around 45,000 people last year. The number of attempts is 25 times the success rate. That's a good million people at any given moment who are so uncomfortable living life that not living seems like a good alternative to them. Of those, you can reasonably expect that several thousand are occult studies people. And bear in mind that suicide is but one very extreme manifestation of psychological distress. Some 18% of the U.S. population, 40+ million people suffer from some form of mental illness by current diagnostic standards. As an aside, there are many problems with the current diagnostic system, but that's beside the point.

The point is, there are plenty of people in the world with interest in occult studies who probably aren't healthy enough to engage in some magic practices, especially the kind that in the best of circumstances can foster panic with lingering effects in healthy people.

One final note, to forestall the seemingly inevitable: I do not believe that spirit phenomena are generated by the mind without input from the world outside the operator, and anyone who claims I'm promoting that idea is just wrong. If anyone wants to engage my take on what spirit phenomena is, I'm willing but not here. I have a thread just for that:

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