‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ —Arthur C. Clarke
‘What the universe becomes depends on you’ —Henryk Skolimowski
Magic may not be what we think it is. In fact, it may be very much more. It may in fact be everything, and everything that is not magic simply is not. In other words, life itself is magic. Not only the miraculous nature of life itself (which is what it is when we come to think about it), but also the very process/act of life creation is itself a form of magic. We live in a world of magic today; without magic there would be nothing. So let’s be clear, I’m not talking about white doves flying out of long sleeves, rabbits jumping out of top hats, or sleight of hand card tricks. This is conjuring (or ‘party tricks’) and is as far away from genuine magic as a tasty meal is from the written menu. Rather, true magic is about the animation and power of the human soul. The ancient Egyptians knew this well.
For the ancient Egyptians magic was not so much seen as a series of human practices or rituals but rather as the essential energy that pervades the cosmos. It was an underlying pervasive energy that humans could access, activate, and potentially direct. The Egyptians understood this magic to be in the form of a god, named Heka, which represented the primal cosmic energy that permeated all levels of existence. It was an energy that animated the bodies of gods and humans, as well as the plants and the stones. Everything was thus instilled with this ‘magic,’ which was a spiritual energizing power. It was through Heka that things of the material plane could participate upon the spiritual. The spiritualizing force was also the conscious, animating energy. Heka – magic – also referred to the activation of a person’s soul. The Egyptians believed that one of the functions of magic was to activate the soul within the human body. As Jeremy Naydler notes,
The ancient Egyptians understood that to become enlightened one must become aware of that which is cosmic in one’s own nature. One must realize that there is something deep within human nature that is essentially not of this earth, but is a cosmic principle.1
This cosmic principle in one’s own nature was magic, or the underlying animating energy of the cosmos. In those times there was not the vocabulary that is extant today for observing and describing the cosmos. In the ancient past, which had a participatory understanding of the communion between humanity and the cosmos, language was couched in different terms. The Egyptians, for example, expressed themselves through the visual language of hieroglyphics. In this language the world of the human was inextricably bound with the world of the gods, and the otherworld. The deep animating force of the human soul came from a communion with the spiritualizing force of the cosmos. From their language, translated into our own, we know this as magic. Yet to them it was a different form of magic, and totally unlike that which we understand today. And yet if we look at the quirky weirdness of the quantum world, with its uncertainty principle and quantum entanglement, we are seeing the same form of magic that inspired the Egyptians. As the eminent science-fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke noted, any form of advanced technology is, to the observer, indistinguishable from magic. Magic is the mysterious glue that entangles, connects, communes, and also animates us from nothing to everything. Sacred creation and the creative sacred is the mirroring of the magical quantum collapse into being.
The knowledge of sacred magic, of the cosmic mysteries, was sought after by all of our known and most highly regarded historical philosophers. From Plato, Pythagoras, Empedocles, Democritus, Plotinus, and so on, such seekers of wisdom travelled widely and extensively in their time for the gaining and understanding of such knowledge. Upon their return, they then publicly preached and taught it. There was that which was allowed to be divulged in public, for the consumption of the masses, and then there were the Mystery Schools for those initiates deemed worthy of the deeper knowledge of the cosmos. Magic and natural philosophy were seen as aspects of the same stream of knowledge. It was about the science of material and non-material things; knowledge of the pure forms and secondary forms.
The great religious institutions also openly wrote accounts of the use of sacred magic. The biblical King Solomon was declared as proficient in the magical arts, and it is said that God bestowed upon him the knowledge of the ‘true science of things.’ In the Quran there are also numerous references to the existence of djinns and their magical, and often disruptive, influence. Magic is also connected to the cosmos and creation in many cultures, and in indigenous and so-called primitive tribes the world over. Some form of shamanic contact with the spirit world seems to be nearly universal in the early development of human communities. For millennia it has been known that ritual acts, language, and intention (mental focus) form a bridge of magical influence over forces within the universe. Magic is the art of participation, and the participatory art of communion with the forces around and within us. The celebrated anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski argues that every person, no matter how primitive, uses both magic and science.2 Magical practices and religious observances are so similar in their approach in that they both employ the manipulation of symbols, words, or images, to achieve changes in consciousness. Similarly, both magic and religion often serve the same function in a society. The difference is that magic is more about the personal connection with non-material forces, and the power of individual gnosis. In contrast, religion serves to connect both the individual and the community to a prescribed godhead through faith.
Magic in its original form is a practical extension of natural philosophy. Through observation and experimentation it sought to study, and then engage with, the hidden forces of Nature. It also sought for an understanding of the relations – the correspondences – between the macrocosm and the microcosm; that is, the ‘As Above, So Below’ communion as expressed through the Hermetic Arts. In this sense, magic can also be viewed as an amalgamation of science and religion (from Latin religare – to bind). That is, science seeks to understand whilst the religious impulse seeks to bind the human to the greater cosmic forces. Magic was a merging of the natural world with the human spirit. The investigation of Nature’s secrets, of the cosmic mysteries, was a spiritual quest long before it became seen as a scientific endeavour. As Giambattista della Porta, the 16th century Italian philosopher wrote, magic is ‘nothing else but the survey of the whole course of Nature.’3
The Renaissance zeitgeist, and especially its magical adherents and practitioners, experienced the world, the universe, in which they lived as a thriving intelligence, and not just as an intellectual idea. For them, art itself was a form and expression of magic; a means of channelling the secret patterns and energies of the cosmos into the world of matter. The famous German occultist and theologian Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486 – 1535) referred to magic as ‘the most perfect and chief Science, that sacred and sublimer kind of Phylosophy [philosophy]’4 The early Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino wrote that ‘The whole power of magic consists in love. The work of magic is the attraction of one thing by another because of a certain affinity of nature.’5 For Ficino, natural magic reflected a desire to animate human life with the living spirit of the cosmos. Magic then was a means for humanity to align itself with the living intelligence of the cosmos and to be able to receive its enhancing energies. In other words, it was a kind of cosmic connection and download. And when Arabic numerals (representing the Hindu-Arabic numeral system) – now our modern numbers – entered Europe from mainly Arabic thinkers, writers, and speakers they were adopted quickly by western occultists. In time these ‘uncanny squiggles’ came to replace the orderly roman numerals so beloved by government bureaucracy. The vital and dynamic era of renaissance magic was necessary in laying the foundations for the new Scientific Revolution of the 17th century.
In the 20th century the concept of magic was given bad press by its association with black magic, and the public rise of the ‘black magicians’ (or those of the Left-Hand Path). The most infamous of these was the Englishman Aleister Crowley, who preferred the spelling of magick. Yet despite his much-beloved public displays of anti-social eccentricity and taboo-breaking lewdness, he was a man of deep insight into magical operations. When communicating on a more profound level he would declare the true definition of magic as being ‘the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will.’ That is, Crowley used a form of mental and mystical/ spiritual discipline in order to train the mind to achieve greater focus to commune and participate with the non-material forces of the cosmos.
Even today various forms of magical practices have become merged with accepted psychological principles and are utilized to promote techniques for personal development. For example, the visualization techniques once widely used in magical operations are nowadays often put to use in such diverse areas as clinical psychology and sports training. Many forms of modern recreational health practices, such as yoga, tai chi, yiquan, and qigong, are based on a series of body posture, breathing, and meditation techniques that connect with the underlying energetic force/energy prevalent in the cosmic matrix that surrounds us and in which we are embedded. After all, magic is little more than the application of one’s own soul-self, our integral unity, with the cosmos. In other times this would be seen as mystical, magical, and mysterious. And now it is part of the world we are living in as the sacred revival rears its head from the non-visible to the visible plane once again.
Magic too can be viewed as being indistinguishable from our art, whether we are talking of painting, writing, music, sculpture, or any other form. Also, the word ‘technology’, which comes from the Greek word tekhne, means art or the ‘science of craft’ but not directly the application of science. Yet whether we are talking about magic, technology, art, or science, in the end it is all about the same thing – the exploratory path to knowledge and understanding. And this quest for understanding includes, and often merges, all such forms and pathways. We can say it all constitutes parts of the same body, just dressed up in different rags according to context, time and culture.
Magic as Science and Technology
It is my view that science and magic are manifestations of the same phenomena. There is more than one path – one ‘science’ – in persuading the cosmos to open up and reveal its secrets. Science did not overthrow magic, it emerged from it. The beginnings of empiricism were rooted in the magical tradition. It is now well understood that modern chemistry materialized from practical alchemy (al-kimiya). Many practising alchemists – from Paracelsus to Isaac Newton – were employing empirical methods with natural magic. The shift in applications went hand in hand with a changing worldview. Applied science was yet another avenue to gain access to and command the secret forces of the cosmos. What we consider as barbaric and primitive from the past will similarly stigmatize the current methods of our day from a future perspective. We cannot, it seems, escape the trap of being victims of our time.
The underlying basis of science derives from the convictions of the earliest natural (magic) philosophers such as Plato and Pythagoras. Namely, that our apparent changeable world adheres to certain laws that can be applied to external formulae. Is searching for the Higgs boson – as the quantum excitation of the Higgs field – any different from magical correspondences with non-visible fields of force? Perhaps applied science then is our modern name for the magical pursuit of eternal truths?
The flame of magical enquiry was also dampened by the rise of religious fervour and cries of heresy. Occult philosophy increasingly found itself confronted by allegations and rumours of demonic flirtation amid the rise of witch trials and mass suspicion (or hysteria). As C.S. Lewis pointed out, the great renaissance magic was discredited less by science than from a general ‘darkening of the human imagination.’6 Perhaps there is no greater symbolic end to the magical enterprise than the public burning of Giordano Bruno in Rome in 1600. After the demise of renaissance magic the human imagination did not rise to such heights again until the Romantics, or the depths of the human psyche so probed until depth psychology. The new struggle of the human mind was now with the rise of scientific thinking.
Heliocentricity, the understanding that the planets revolve around the sun, came to symbolize the great scientific revolution and the step from the medieval mind into early modernity. Our scientists now scorn and smirk at the religious thinking that once placed the earth at the centre of the ‘divine’ universe – and yet today, centuries on, we know little else. Our neighbouring planets are gas giants or oddly pock-marked balls of rock that remain as enigmas. Sun-flares and coronial mass ejections disrupt our communications and continue to intrigue and baffle us. Dark matter is a mystery that is estimated to constitute 84.5% of the total matter in the universe. Dark matter plus dark energy together constitute 95.1% of the total mass–energy content of the universe, and we don’t know what it is. The universe is singular, then it’s multiple, or parallel; it’s held together by strings, or it’s connected multi-dimensionally, or is a holographic projection from a quantum matrix beyond space-time, etc, etc. We may indeed be in a stage of modernity, or rather just a later period of medieval-ness. Or maybe, like our philosophical Greek and Arab predecessors, we merely like the fun of being able to ‘entertain contradictory world-views simultaneously.’7 As Patrick Harpur astutely observes,
…whatever we suppress gathers in the unconscious and throws a ‘shadow’ over the world. Dark matter is precisely the shadow of the imaginative fullness we have denied to our cosmos. The daimons we cannot bring ourselves to admit return as dark ‘virtual particles’. Like the psychological shadow, dark matter’s massive invisible presence exerts an unconscious influence on the conscious universe.8
Renaissance thought and the medieval mind accepted the existence of the world soul – the anima mundi – where all things were connected by an underlying soul/force. Modern science banished the soul from roaming the world, and replaced it by the tick-tock of mechanistic laws. The technical inventions of renaissance science – its clocks, telescopes, and compasses – no doubt assisted to dissolve belief in the world soul and its system of correspondences. New correlations, connections, and correspondences were derived by technical means, by materialized devices. And yet our high technologies of today are turning this situation around by de-materializing themselves and merging into our environment and our bodies. Perhaps the coming era of high technology re-constitutes a new chimera of the world soul. I will return to this question later in the book.
Broadly speaking, technology can be defined as those means and devices, both material and immaterial, which allow a greater degree of manipulation over one’s environment. Their use also achieves a degree of value for the user. It has often been said that the human species’ use of technology began with the conversion of natural resources into simple tools. The prehistoric discovery of how to control fire is frequently cited as one of the first widespread uses of a technology. Whatever definition we choose to use the essential feature is that technologies materialize magic – they make the once-magic happen. They bring the sights of the seer into the human eye (telescope), transport telepathic communication (phone), create occult harm at a distance (weapons), delve into the mystic heart of the body (microscope), and project our imaginations and otherworlds into image (television/video). Technologies are an extension of magic by other means.
In this day and age we are moving further into the world of image. We have always been fed images of the world that are not. We live in a world of representations; we dance with the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave. We exist in a world that, as Plato would say, is construed from representations of Eternal Forms. And then we take a further step back as we live in cultures that use symbols and images to relate the represented world to us. We are thus even further away from the Real. There is little wonder then that our souls often feel under-nourished. In response they long for, and seek out, the sacred, the eternal, and the bridge to the real: the phenomenal is the bridge to the real (Sufi saying).
Because the Scientific Revolution put the emphasis upon the quantifying eye, the visual aspect became a validating tool of empirical reality. What we could witness became a legitimate part of our truths – ‘seeing is believing’ as they say. What was seen at the end of the telescope or microscope became a new fact to add to the expanding artefacts of facts we kept accumulating. We began to trust too much in what the human eye, and its technological appendices, could see. The eye became a dominant lens for seeking truth within the new paradigm of modern science. This was not the case with our ancestors, who relied much more on a close range of senses, especially touch and smell, as well as a heightened sense of instinct. Because they formed more of a participatory bond with the world around them they did not distance themselves like we do today by viewing the world in terms of object and subject. That is why in modern terminology we refer to the observer effect whereby the act of observation can influence, or make a change, upon the phenomenon being observed.
Quantum physics tells us that through measurement, or rather observation, quantum energy ‘collapses’ into a particle or wave function. And yet this terminology is misleading as it uses the older vocabulary which stipulated the human eye as a validating tool of empirical reality. It is a fallacy of how we understand sight and observation. We don’t observe particles or phenomena at a distance – we are already participating in their existence. The observer effect should really be changed to saying the participatory effect. Consciousness is a participatory phenomenon. In our known reality, we participate in a conscious universe where, according to the Hermetic saying, the centre is everywhere and the circumference nowhere. There is no better place for the Hermetic arts and the quantum realm to meet than in the magic of alchemy. This archaic science is the crossroads where science, magic, and the spirit meet. On the material level it is seen as a long series of precise and laborious scientific experimentation in order to transmute base metals (such as lead) into gold. It is a play with chemical composition and atomic arrangements; a form of molecular management and interference. However, upon the spiritual plane it is a major magical and mystical arcane participation with non-visible forces that bind the material world beyond our known sciences. Perhaps the most well-known, and revealing, brief encounter and explanation of this process occurred in the 20th century. According to the now infamous meeting with the mysterious alchemist Fulcanelli in June 1937, in a laboratory of the Gas Board in Paris, the chemical engineer Jacques Bergier was warned about efforts to create the atomic bomb. Jacques Bergier was given a message by Fulcanelli to pass on to the noted French atomic physicist André Helbronner. Allegedly Bergier was told that:
The secret of alchemy is this: there is a way of manipulating matter and energy so as to produce what modern scientists call ‘a field of force.’ The field acts on the observer and puts him in a privileged position vis-à-vis the Universe. From this position he has access to the realities which are ordinarily hidden from us by time and space, matter and energy. This is what we call the Great Work.9
The Great Work, it would seem, involves the participatory mind of human consciousness interacting with a specific field of force that produces a view/perception of the universe. This appears to be a form of the quantum observer/participatory effect yet on an intentioned and conscious level – a form of consciously arranged quantumly entangled perception? This view correlates somewhat with the words of famed theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler:
The universe does not exist ‘out there’ independent of us. We are inescapably bringing about that which appears to be happening. We are not only observers. We are participators. In some strange sense this is a participatory universe.10
Our cosmos is set up for cognitive participation, which is why we should realize that whenever we attempt to observe or describe reality, what we are actually doing is participating and thus influencing, or interfering, with it. Our own conscious thoughts are more powerful and non-visible tools than we realize. In this regard, the ‘principle of cognitive participation is replacing the principle of objectivity.’11
Moreover, another way of re-phrasing the deceptive ‘wave collapse’ is to refer to it as coming into being. What is taking place is a quantum act of creation. The underlying quantum energy landscape of our cosmos is an energetic playing field of participatory creation. It is the ancient Egyptian divine archetype Heka, the spiritualizing force that is the conscious, animating energy of the cosmos. The quantum realm is the magical realm, where through participation the enquiring human mind proposes new hypotheses that then gets projected into the underlying energy matrix which has the potential to conjure them into reality. We could call this the Higgs Boson Effect, whereby we actually form a participatory relation to the physical manifestations of our own projections. The Higgs Boson – also somewhat ironically referred to as the ‘God Particle’ – was first proposed by a team of physicists in 1964 (and not just one guy called Higgs!). Several other physicists from the 1960s onwards also speculated and hypothesized on the Higgs Field effect. This enquiry led to a forty year search within the international physics community and eventually culminated in the construction of the world’s most expensive experimental test facility and the largest single machine in the world – the CERN Large Hadron Collider.12 After many experiments and independently verified research CERN announced on 14th March 2013 that there were strong indications that the Higgs boson had been found. It was what they had been looking for all along. And finally, after much mental focusing and scientific ritual, with instruments and precise application, a phenomenon materialized into reality. Maybe this is a good time to recap Aleister Crowley’s definition of magic – the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity with the will. Was not then the discovery of the Higgs Boson an act of magic, after all? Perhaps it will go down in history as one of the most complex, community-led, conjuring tricks in the annals of science. Or maybe it will just be seen as yet another proof that the scientific method works. This would show, yet again, that the universe exists upon a set of static fundamental laws that are just in need of discovery.
It would be heresy to speculate that our quantum-matrix reality actually responds to sentient thought and creates – forms into being – material representations of willed projections. If this were the case, then it would be a big secret indeed. So big, in fact, that it would need to be kept hidden from untrained minds who, ignorantly, could set into motion a wave of material phenomenon of destructive and chaotic consequences. Such potential power, if it existed, would likely need to be placed in quarantine until such a time whereby it could be used for the greater good. Luckily for us though it is only speculation.
Similar speculations have occurred elsewhere too, such as in our popular culture. One example is the science-fiction story by Stanislaw Lem called ‘Solaris,’ which was later visualized hypnotically in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film version.13 In Lem’s story, the protagonists of a research space station are investigating an alien intelligence that is the oceanic sentient planet of Solaris. However, the sentient planet is in turn probing into the minds of the human researchers and investigating them. In this process the planet is able to respond by materializing thoughts, memories, and desires that are deep within the human mind. In this way each scientist is forced to confront those aspects that they have mentally hidden away. By encountering an unknown and alien energetic entity, mental processes are able to be projected into a material reality. The sentient ocean of Solaris could be taken as a metaphor for the quantum ocean/field that is increasingly recognized today as a consciousness field.14
Whilst this may seem like magic to us, for the ancestral pre-modern mind the real magic was the spiritualizing force that animates the entire cosmos. Animation – the bringing to life – is a spiritualizing sacred force, and it is magic. And that is why the sacred revival is all about magic: the magic of how we create into being our soul-life and project it into the world in which we participate. Genuine magic is the science and art of the participatory mind to commune with the cosmos and manifest our deepest will into materiality. Magic is the spiritualizing force that animates the human soul, and which communes with the soul of the world, the anima mundi. We have also hidden this magic within our sciences, our technologies, and within our human memories and emotions; and yet it is the pervasive force which entangles us all together and from which the immaterial becomes material.
We are finally regaining the understanding through the new sciences that our knowledge is not discovered or given to us but are part of the reality that is being continually created by us. Our penetration into the participatory cosmos is part of a grander unfolding where everything is evolving; and so too are our perceptions of the sacred source evolving as well. The sacred revival is about re-animating our relationship to this profound, spiritual truth.
1 Naydler, J. (2009) The Future of the Ancient World: Essays on the History of Consciousness. Rochester, VT, Inner Traditions, p143
2 Maliowski, Bronisław (1954) Magic, Science and Religion and Other Essays. New York: Anchor Books.
3 Cited in Fideler, D. (2014). Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence. Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions, p111
4 Agrippa, Heinrich Cornelius. (1533) De occulta philosophia libri tres (Three Books Concerning Occult Philosophy). Publicly available online.
5 Cited in Fideler, D. (2014). Restoring the Soul of the World: Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence. Rochester, Vermont, Inner Traditions, p104
6 Cited in Harpur, P. (2009). The Philosophers’ Secret Fire: a history of the imagination. Glastonbury, The Squeeze Press, p135
7 As noted by Patrick Harpur in his The Philosophers’ Secret Fire, p171
8 Harpur, P. (2009). The Philosophers’ Secret Fire: a history of the imagination. Glastonbury, The Squeeze Press, p177
10 Cited in Skolimowski, H. (1993). A Sacred Place to Dwell: Living With Reverence Upon the Earth. Shaftesbury, Dorset, p82.
11 Skolimowski, H. (1993). A Sacred Place to Dwell: Living With Reverence Upon the Earth. Shaftesbury, Dorset, p81.
12 The Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (English – The European Organization for Nuclear Research). The Large Hadron Collider is a particle collider that lies in a tunnel 27 kilometres/17 miles in circumference beneath the France-Switzerland border.
13 Three film versions have been made of Solaris; in 1968 (Boris Nirenburg), 1972 (Andrei Tarkovsky); and 2002 (Steven Soderbergh).
14 See The Self-Actualizing Cosmos: The Akasha Revolution in Science and Human Consciousness by Ervin Laszlo.
Image by Steve Jurvetson, courtesy of Creative Commons license.