On Magical Consciousness

Hi Matt.

Great question. One reason I say that is because it’s a really fertile subject; poking at it can produce a lot of varied insights (and problems). There’s a lot of ways to approach it and a lot of ways to answer it. I tried a few but I felt the answer got too long and even more rambling than this one. So I spent some time cutting it in half. What follows is the result. Most of what I cut down were more explorations of background to the themes of  “magical Consciousness” and the “asking”. Any way I hope this response is of some use in your considerations of these subjects. I could post them on my blog if you think they’d be of more general interest

We’ve known each other for a while so I hope you won’t be surprised when I say that I don’t have an answer for you — and then scribble on for another thousand words. But even though I can’t offer an answer I would be delighted to join in your meditations on this subject. I think I can best contribute by sharing the elements that the question brings to my mind. So here’s my musings.

Is the asking a magical act? 

Yes certainly. 

No not at all. 

I don’t think there is a single answer, rather the answer will depend on a number of distinct factors (remember we were told that “before philosophy there is your point of view” — your interest).

First to magic, magical consciousness, magical acts. As Silo explained he drew heavily on Sartre’s theory of emotions for his description of magical consciousness. As you pointed out, in the sense that Silo used the terms a magical act is one where the body is removed from and effective role in affecting change in the world. Magic uses emotion to transform the everyday world into one where, I can act on reality with just my intent and ritual action (simple or complex, subtle or obvious). 

But of course there are situations where the magical act can obviously “work”. For example, as when trying to influence another person. A child stares in the window of a store and cries because they want a certain toy — for Sartre this crying would be an example of a magical act par excellence. And so it is. But in this case it may well be effective if the child’s intentions expressed in this “ritual” were acting on the parent standing beside them. 

So is it magical even if it works? The “magical”, it seems to me refers to the consciousness that is attempting to act on the world not to the results — which obviously might come about by accident, or coincidence or by a mechanism not yet understood.

When I start thinking about the asking and related phenomena a number of other questions catch my attention. What do I believe asking is really about? What is it for? Of course, like many people my almost reflex belief is that the asking is like the prayer of the religious person. But our asking is accessible to everyone even the non-believer who understands it as a useful psychological mechanism. Apparently, the common understanding of prayer shares with the magical act the notion that I can force, or at least encourage, the world to bend to my will through my prayers (with or without the intermediation of a deity). Why else would I ask? Who would pray without a caring divinity to hear them? Who would answer? Personally, I think those are very important questions because they take me to consider my presuppositions about the Force, the Asking and many other things.

In sum (and hence very roughly) one can from a certain point of view understand all these things as spiritual “facts”. In one case I might believe that if I ask for my sick friend to be well some kind of vital force is mobilized by my need, and focused by my intention as manifest in my images. I could believe that this energy goes into the world and acts on the energetic field of my friend. Or I could hold a more psychological point of view. From that perspective I understand that if I charge an image with force (in the sense of psycho-physical energy) it will be more likely to propel my body into motion in a given direction (as explained in Silo’s Psychology Notes, and Psychology of the Image). If I reinforce my image of my sick friend I am more likely to be attentive to her, to remember to call, or to visit her in the hospital. 

In the case of a psychological interpretation, I think our original question (on the relation between the asking and magic) disappears —  since obviously this action (the asking) is a primary step in taking the body to move in the world. As always with techniques that actually work, it involves reinforcing the action of natural mechanisms. In this case the mechanism would involve the function of the image as a carrier of charge to the centres of response. 

In the case of a spiritual interpretation, as already discussed we would need to believe it is efficacious, i.e. it works and as in the earlier example, does some good for my friend. As with religious prayer many people do not doubt it works and are willing to offer, sometimes startling, anecdotal evidence to back that up. Not everyone needs, or even wants, to go further. Some people are content with their experience and their faith. Why not?

But what if you wanted to go further? For example, to try to answer the various questions that surge when I start thinking about this:  Are the limits of the body the limits of my skin? Can my reach only be extended by tools of which the body makes use (as my hard drive extends my memory, or my car extends my legs)? If for example there really is an energy that can extend beyond the apparent limits of my body then would using that energy be magical in the sense we’ve outlined, or just a change in my understanding of what constitutes my body?

So is the asking, a magical act or isn’t it? Perhaps, it depends on whose asking. Is it a bad thing if it’s magical? I don’t think so. But I do know that Silo made a number of comments about the asking. They are often forgotten, which is I think, a shame. Among the things he said: that it wasn’t a matter of pleading or bargaining (as many people do with their gods). The attitude was dignified and calm. Nor was it a matter of needing to ask that this operation on my friend’s left ventricle be successful, that the surgeon have a good sleep the night before, etc. The emphasis is more a matter of connecting to the person through the good will you felt toward them. You will probably remember that he said, when asking for someone who was in dire straits, that it wasn’t a matter of asking that they live, or get well, but of asking the best for them. I was present on a number of occasions where, after a group of us did an asking for someone who wasn’t present, he said to be sure they were told that we were asking for them.

Silo made it clear that he thought the psychological, spiritual, and other possible interpretations of his teaching were valid, that the Inner Look, for example, was open to many ways of reading it. 

One last memory for the moment. On more than one occasion I heard him say that if you wanted to know whether the Force could be projected, and act on other living things you would have to do the experiment. On at least one occasion he laid out an entire experimental procedure involving, if I recall correctly setting up two groups of seedlings under identical conditions (soil, light, moisture, etc) and ask for one group to flourish. Given the circumstances, and Negro’s sly sense of humour some, perhaps most, of the listeners took this as a joke. Perhaps it was.