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Magical Arts III: Feelings and the Unconscious Psyche

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January 2013
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Strong feelings do not necessarily make a strong character. The strength of a man is to be measured by the power of the feelings he subdues not by the power of those which subdue him.

— William Carleton

Getting a grip on one’s unconscious mind is the next step after one has got a grip on one’s body. In the Magical Alphabet, F stands for Feelings because these are the products of the sub-conscious mind. In other words, while conscious thoughts are taken into consciousness, the sphere of the Ego, feelings are harder to articulate and often move and affect us without ever being translated into logical utterances.

C.G. Jung contrasted Thinking and Feeling as two functions of the psyche. Thinking deals with logical cogitation and utterances, with raciocination, as Sherlock Holmes liked to put it. When we are thinking, we are being rational (or trying to be). When we are feeling, while it is still a function of the psyche, what is actually going on is pre-verbal. Feeling is the perception of relationships on what we commonly call an “emotional” level. When you feel anger, stress, love, hate, anxiety, or joy, you likely have a physical sensation in your chest. For this reason, the faculty of feeling has been traditionally associated with the heart.

What we call the realm of the heart has to do with love, most fundamentally, but at an infantile level (that which forms the basis of our psyche), love involves both joy and fear. Fear of loss, joy in having the beloved. Children, during the time when their Ego is forming, transfer the joy and fear of having their mother’s breast and milk to other things. A toddler’s distraught reaction to the loss of a beloved toy seems ridiculous to an adult, but that is because the feeling of loss is more personal, primal and connected to the child’s feeling of vulnerability. An adult who loses her favorite fountain pen might go into a rage or a funk just as well, because these same primal emotions are aroused.

Emotions are fundamentally a form of energy in the body. In a material body they are often accompanied by chemical changes, spikes in hormone levels and other physiological changes. However, when emotions get to the mind, or psyche, they are feelings. They have emerged in the matter of the brain as patterns of recognition and relationship. For example, possession and identification are organizing ideas around which feelings form. Likewise rejection is a structure of feeling created by experience and energized by emotions. Sexual arousal is an emotion, while love is a structure of feeling connected to the basic idea of relatedness and possession, and to a degree the idea of being possessed by a beloved. The emotions are adult, as are the physiology, but the feelings may be quite infantile and primal — based on the person’s early experiences of union with the body of another (most often the mother). A baby’s sense of its own dependence often emerges powerfully as a structure of feelings, when a person “falls in love.”

Having feelings is a faculty of higher animals. We can observe reactions in other primates, dolphins, elephants, and other large-brained brethren that go beyond reflexive emotional responses to danger or attack. Affection between parent and young is one sort of feeling that we can relate to. But, speculation on what other animals feel is beyond the concern or power of most of us. What is needed is for the mage to understand his or her own feelings and emotional triggers. One way to do this is to bring feelings out of the unconscious and articulated them consciously. This may be done in language, or it may be done through a non-verbal creative medium such as drawing, painting, pottery, sculpture, and so forth.

The reason to get a grip on one’s unconscious psyche is not to throw away emotions and feelings. Quite the opposite. A mage like Star Trek’s Mr. Spock, the Vulcan who believed feelings inferior to pure logic, would not get very far as a mage. If a spell can be thought of as a rocket, logic is the structure of the missile itself, but feeling is its propellant. If own never had feelings, one would never feel the need to cast spells in the first place.

REasoning and logic will come next in the grand scheme of things as the third of the liberal arts in the Trivium. However, as a practical matter, one cannot extricate logic and feelings. They are intertwined within the psyche and so constitute Ego and Anima, in C.G. Jung’s model. Ego is supposed to operate on observation and reasoning, but in fact it very often operates on impulse — that is on the basis of unconscious or semi-conscious feelings. Thoughts and rationalizations of them, may in fact arise in the conscious mind directly from emotions. Anger, for example, stimulated by a sudden pain, may cause one to curse an inanimate object, or even kick it, just to get revenge. The Ego, at that moment, thinks that it is logical to personify an object that in fact has no volition at all.

Similarly, deep-seated feelings can prompt highly irrational thoughts. A person suffering from pain and resentment because he was weaned too early as a baby (at least to his own idea of “too early”) can evolve all sorts of thoughts of inferiority, rejection, and loss that seem simply to be true. The Ego takes such thoughts based on unconscious feelings as if they were factual observations and proceeds to rationalize them.

Such logic is not what one wants. Ideally, one wishes one’s rational mind to base its logic upon true assumptions and true, objective observations. Yet, the fact remains, objectivity is an ideal state of mind that is ultimately very difficult to achieve. Pure objectivity is impossible to the human mind, unless the entire contents of one’s unconscious psyche can be integrated into a whole with its conscious aspects. Jung called this process individuation. It must be a dance of the mind and feelings to judge one’ own thoughts as critically and objectively as one tries to judge the utterances of others. We all seek logic — that is what we call “making sense of the world.” Today, we know that this goal requires us not only to question our feelings and prejudices, but even our five senses. What seems to be is not always true.

The most common error of logic is to base one’s reasoning upon false premises. Of course, one does not know they are false until one runs up against evidence that contradicts the conclusions drawn from those premises. Modern science tries to begin reasoning from premises, which have been demonstrated to be true from prior observation and testing. It is a grand idea; unfortunately, few realize that the method itself contains assumptions that are unproven. Succinctly, observation based only on the five physical senses of the body can never admit anything that is not material. This means that things — such as the psyche — which are not material at all become warped as they are hammered into a materialist jigsaw puzzle. Twentieth-century Western psychology took a major turn when it accepted the unwarranted premise that the mind must be thought of only in terms of brain chemistry and behavior resulting from it. While this model of mind has brought us much good knowledge about the effects of brain chemistry on the psyche, it does so while implicitly bracketing the fundamental existence of the mind as a non-material entity.

Understanding this about Western psychology is important to a budding mage because a great deal of what with think and do is predicated upon assumptions that are handed to us by our elders, some so firmly believed that even to contradict them can ruin one’s career. Belief is the driving factor that prompts our thoughts. Beliefs are both feelings and thoughts. When we believe something to be true without the proofs of experimental method, we may arrive at all sorts of conclusions that cannot be accepted as true, strictly speaking. The case of religion is one of the biggest bugbears in this class; the scientific materialism of the West emerged largely as a reaction against the false reasoning of Christianity.

By “false reasoning” I do not mean to say that the religion and its beliefs are demonstrably false. Nor do I mean to imply that there is only one kind of truth. What I mean is that those beliefs taken for granted and based upon only the Christian Bible for evidence cannot claim the kind of truth found by reasoning from observation. That is, the reports of events in the Bible are unlikely to be unbiased or complete. In the case of claimed miracles, for example, science can offer no way to justify such beliefs as true.

Yet, for centuries people in the Christian West and its cultural diaspora have accepted the Bible as factual. This is because they accepted the premise that the Bible was written by God and therefore a priori, true. Long trains of logic and reasoning may spin out from that single premise based upon a collection of texts which are simply accepted without question to be literally and completely true in every detail.

Even when the field of Biblical criticism developed during the 19th century, the grounds of belief shifted only slightly. The believer, the Christian theologian and Biblical scholar, stated that the Bible was inspired by God but written by men. This meant that the exact details of fact reported could be analyzed, sifted, and questioned; but only to a point. The fundamental belief that the Jewish “Old Testament” accurately reported the history of the Hebrews was not seriously challenged. In fact a whole new industry of looking for archaeological evidence to support the reports in the Bible grew up.

While such reasoning and evidence-seeking is valid to a point, it ultimately violates a fundamental rule of the scientific method. That is, that the reasoner should not go out and cherry-pick facts or evidence in order to support a thesis. The testing of hypothesis is a rigorous attempt to disprove them. Only if a hypothesis cannot be disproven can we know (with a fair degree of certainty) that it is true. And even then, time will tell. Someone might come up with a set of data that does not fit a well-established theory, as we have seen in the development of quantum physics and relativity out of established Newtonian “laws.”

This impinges on magery very directly because the magical arts are driven not by proofs but by beliefs. There is no need to prove a magical hypothesis unless doing so strengthens one’s belief in its truth. The magical effect come about because the mage fully believes in the model of the cosmos in which he mentally works. That is why magic usually employs the imagery of whatever religion the mage accepts. Working within a cultural matrix of belief makes magic easier. In the kind of societies we have in much of the West, where many religious cosmologies exist side-by-side, we lack the power provided by a culture in which everyone believes essentially the same model.

To magery, one religion is as good as the next, unless it gets in the way of one’s intentions. Religious officialdom is thus inimical to magery and that is why so many magical folk of the past have run afoul of the law and the religious enforcers. Magery is fundamentally practical. It is a method for representing one’s intention and projecting it onto a formative plane of existence. If you do not believe in a formative plane, then you will be hard-pressed to do any magical work. But nearlly everyone does. Even the scientific atheist believes there is some layer of the mind in which positive affirmations will cause manifestations in the material world. You do not have to believe in gods or saint or angels and demons to believe in a formative world. However, Christianity and the other Abrahamic religion have tended to see this other world as populated and governed by such spiritual entities.

That is why magery has the reputation of requiring one to invoke demons. Within the medieval Christian worldview (and to a degree within medieval Judaism and Islam) magic, as defined in those cultures, depends on consorting with spirits. They might be Jinn, they might be angels, they might be demons. In the pagan pre-Christian cultures of the West, the intelligences contacted might be “the Fair Folk” or the “Hidden People,” euphemisms for entities that have a form of being similar to our own, but who also exert power over reality.

Mages today disagree on the matter of worldviews. Does one need a religious cosmology at all? Will the cosmology of science serve just as well, now that so many people believe in it? The answer will depend upon whether you grew up with a religious cosmology and whether it fits your needs. Many raised in the various denominations of the Christian religion have found it does not meet their needs because it excludes women from spiritual life. In seeking a Divine Feminine or Goddess, many today have turned to pre-Christian ideas. But personification of cosmic powers is more necessary to religious feeling than to magery.

The reason for this is that a large part of Western magic is based upon Greek philosophy and where the Greek or Roman gods are used, they are referred to as planets. As science has made planets less mysterious, the use of the planets and the god-names they bear has become abstracted from its original religious context. Is it necessary to believe in Mercury or Jupiter as persons, as god-entities who might appear in a human form? Or is it only necessary to belief in the complex of ideas that we call “Mercury” or “Jupiter”?

These are some of the fundamental questions that every mage must answer to his or her own satisfaction. Being part of a community of believers, whether these are Gnostics, Theosophists, or Hermeticists, helps to build up the strength of belief, and with belief in a spiritual model of the cosmos, one structures one’s logic to create effects that are commonly called “magical.” Ultimately this structure of beliefs makes up magical theory. But in order to construct and use a spiritual logic, one has first to grapple with the structure of one’s own psyche.

We begin with an awareness that we have both a feeling and a thinking faculty, a conscious part of our mind and an unconscious part that need to be integrated. If you do not deal with your own “inner demons” and fears first, you will likely drive yourself round the bend when you try to practice magery. This is why magical orders and mystery schools have always insisted on the long testing of an initiate and a long process of self-actualization before passing on to the practice of the art.

Thinking and Feeling should be born in mind as we progress next through the Trivium, the first three of the liberal arts. That is, Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. These are verbal arts and arts of the mind.


Next time: Grammarye.


Recommended Reading:

Carol Kuhn Truman.  Feelings Buried Alive Never Die.  
Edward Edinger.  Ego and Archetype.

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