Magic and prayer
When I was in my early teens I would often play computer games like Command and Conquer; at a certain stage, as with most people, there would be a level I struggled to complete. I remember that sometimes, after losing the level or reaching stalemate, that I would reload the level and say to myself: “This time I will win. I will absolutely do it.” When I reached this stage I would almost certainly lose again; sometimes the level would coalesce into an awkward stage where everything became—especially in a game that involved construction and resource management—cluttered and congealed. When I reached this point, my mind would feel sticky and clogged; usually, I took a short break and then returned with the aforementioned absolute commitment to finish the level—then I lost.
I was stuck in what Robert Pirsig called a “gumption trap”. The tricky level was only overcome if I left the game alone for a few hours; perhaps a few days. Then I would return and play the level without any expectation that I would win or lose: I would play with an odd sensation as if I had completely given up; not a kind of self-pitying, “Oh I give up, I just can’t do it,” but rather a sort of deep indifference—it felt like deep blue water, very cold and very still; and no real conscious thought went into it.
When I played in this mode, at a certain point—very subtly—a voice would say, “Oh, I think you’re winning now.” Sure enough, it would turn out that the lunar sway was now in my favour and within a few minutes I would make bigger and bigger inroads into the level and finally complete it. These victories were never cause for great celebration; rather each difficult victory generated a satisfied and quiet, “Yes.” Quite often, I would then skip over the next two or three levels very easily; and, oddly enough, I never seemed to get stuck on the final level—the most difficult—only in the higher intermediate stages. I suppose it all had something to do with learning and learning plateaus; the way we learn a new topic or skill and tend to make rapid advances before we plateau and fall back before we rise again.
This entire experience is recognisable as a state that I often write about: the idea, particularly found among the Taoists, that there is what is know as subtle action or non-active action—or even desireless desire. This state—hinted at in David Lynch’s Dune film—sums up the mode in which I resolved my computer game levels. It is known to the Jungians as enantiodromia—the paradoxical interrelation of opposites—for the state of subtle action is held to occur when the masculine and feminine aspects are combined; in esoteric symbology, this is the state where a person is “bitten by the dragon”. Usually, the hero slays the dragon and washes in its blood, so gaining the ability to speak the language of the birds—the cosmic language. By contrast, to be bitten by the dragon is to embody feminine chaos within the masculine; and this is to live in a permanent state of subtle action or the paradoxical state of desireless desire.
It is all summed up in the statement: “If you give it up, you get it.” As I have noted innumerable times before, this is often connected to ideas of romance or wealth acquisition: people who desperately want romantic partners never get them; yet, as has happened to me on several occasions, you will suddenly be bombarded with requests when you really do not care at all. A similar situation pertains to jobs; and you will often find that people who are satisfied in their position will be bombarded by recruitment requests that they ignore, whereas people who really want a job somehow mess up all their opportunities. This is all connected to the quality of indifference, of course; nothing is more unattractive than someone who is desperate for a job or a partner—and, at a more juvenile level, people who want to complete a video game level will rarely do so if they are desperate. Women test men out for their fitness; so any woman, even a relatively plain woman, is conscious as to her worth and has a certain indifference about her; so to be bitten by the dragon is to cultivate the feminine psychological state, cat-like indifference, in a male psyche.
It is imperative not to try: woman just exists—woman is Being; an ahistorical and perennial plant, for Oswald Spengler—whereas man is Becoming; man is an historical subject and a real individual. Man is in a hurry; he is aware that he is finite and has an individual uniqueness, whereas all women are really the same eternal woman—it just so happens that they mirror what is around them and so seem individual. The question for the man who wants to attain a feminine indifference is how not to try—and how do you avoid the great pitfall, how do you try not to try?
Magic provides one way to facilitate this process; and the same process is at work, so far as I can tell, in prayer. Given the way Christianity turned out, magic and sorcery have become somewhat disreputable: Christianity banished the magicians. From the other end, magicians—the devilish Aleister Crowley being a prime example—tend to deny that their doings have anything to do with mainstream Abrahamic religion at all. However, it seems to me the process is very much the same in both cases; and what magic and prayer both achieve is the state of subtle action.
This is actually a very useful innovation. Imagine your prototypical incel: you say to him, “What you need to do is join a club or take up a sport—take up any sport, even if the team is male. How about this amateur football club?” “How is that going to help me? There are no girls on that team.” The answer is that, aside from the benefit of physical development and the sociability involved, it will eventually put him in a situation—say on some pub trip with his teammates—where he forgets his desire for a woman and at that moment, when he has genuinely forgotten, he will become attractive through indifference. Partly this is about causing a person to forget themselves so that they are no longer impeded by self-consciousness—performance anxiety—of the type that causes people to self-sabotage and be socially awkward.
Incidentally, much contemporary social awkwardness is caused by sitcoms and mass media, because one way to create humour is to develop characters who are very self-conscious—perhaps speak a neurotic internal monologue aloud—and so create mayhem. Two examples of this can be found in Fawlty Towers and Curb Your Enthusiasm. While this is funny, people who absorb too much of this material, essentially narcissistic material, are likely to lose touch with unselfconscious social interaction; hence it often feels that young people, particularly teenagers, are “acting” when they vocalise a neurotic internal monologue for humorous effect—people do not spend enough time in silence in modernity.
To return to our incel, we corrected his position in a circuitous way; we had him join a sports team—and perhaps it was difficult to convince him to do this, even if we explained how it would all work and that we really wanted him to forget himself. Now, a simpler method than distracting him with a sports team would be to get him to pray or do magic; for these processes achieve the same effect as the sports team except without the physical activity—both are a shortcut to subtle action.
In magic, the magician’s first task is to create a void; and into this void he implants his will or desire, usually encoded in a symbolic form—from then on he activates whatever he desires with reference to the symbol; he concentrates on the symbol, perhaps. In Tantric-inspired practices he tapes the symbol to his partner’s head during sex to infuse the will with sexual energy. What he achieves through this is desireless desire; he wants what he wants without consciously wanting it and without self-sabotage. In psychological terms, he introjects his desires into himself. Introjection usually refers to a process, such as projection, where we implant our thoughts and emotions into another person—often unconsciously. What the magician does is take his conscious desires—thrusts them into the void he has created in his psyche—and then allows them to become unconscious, with the activation only mediated by the symbol.
His own desire is projected from the unconscious back upon him, now shorn of its conscious excessive wanting. To return to the incel example; the symbolic representation of the desire plays the same role as the amateur football club—it is there to distract the conscious mind away from the true objective. The magician introjects, so to speak, into his own psyche and then fools it into forgetting his excessive conscious desire; the unconscious then goes to work on the problem and solves it in a way that seems remarkable to the practitioner; so, to continue with the romance example: although he does not realise it, the magical incel’s activated unconscious would place him where he needs to be to meet a woman.
So the process is basically: encode desire into a symbol; create a void; force the symbol into the void; occasionally revisit the symbol consciously; and, then, out of the blue, the problem will be solved. You act without desire, since you do not concentrate on your objective: you concentrate on the objective as encoded as a symbol. The process is immensely aided by the fact that the ancients provided huge pantheons that mapped onto all the parts of the psyche: Aphrodite for love, Ares for war, and Athena for wisdom. Christianity is more sparse; but, generally, it reinvented these different functions of the psyche as patron saints and the like. A person can use any of these gods and saints as symbols to concentrate the psyche upon, so activating the relevant part of the unconscious—to pray to Ares would canalise the parts of the unconscious concerned with competition, useful before a game.
This process is helped by the fact that the gods have been subject to immense and often very beautiful artistic representations over the years; and each bears a psychic imprint of a certain desire. So there is very often a powerful visual representation or even, in the case of Christian saints, a physical place to concentrate upon. It is not necessary to use an “extant” god or saint. I could, for example, invent a creature, Cyril, who is responsible for lost keys and then invoke Cyril every time I cannot find my keys—Cyril would just be the part of my psyche connected to “where the keys are”, and also a means to distract my conscious mind from a pointless and frustrating search pattern.
What the magicians do, so far as I can tell, differs very little from what happens in formal religions. People who go to church pray; and this is the formation of a void into which they place their desires. Obviously, figures like Mary and Jesus play the same role as a magician’s spells or sigils; and the process is about the same in Buddhism and other religions too—meditation creates a void. The dressing is a little different; the magician is an independent operator, more or less, and this explains magic’s association with Gnosticism; a Gnostic path is one that seeks a personal route to the Godhead without priestly aid. The magician is more aware as to what he wants to achieve than the person who prays in church and has a greater symbolic range, but otherwise it is similar. Perhaps the churchgoer has a slight disadvantage in that they understand what they are trying to achieve with prayer less well than the magician; for many, it will be an obligation that is part of the ceremony—and if they do not genuinely concentrate they will not create a sufficient void into which the desire can be implanted and transmuted.
All the sceptics and scientists who try to test the efficacy of prayer by getting people in double-blind studies to pray for cancer victims arranged in segregated groups—a control group included, naturally—are barking up the wrong tree. “Yeah, nothing happened. People who were prayed for actually got worse. Just as we thought, there is no invisible man in the sky…” You know the story. The purpose of prayer is to canalise unconscious psychic energy and get the conscious mind’s overwhelming desire out of the way so that you can achieve your task. If you pray for £100,000 or make a magic spell to achieve this it does not mean this amount will appear in your bank next week if you have done nothing else; yet this is what sceptics expect. It might mean, however, that when you have a job interview your nagging concern that you “must get” the job has been parked and you can perform adequately. “Oh, you mean distract yourself?” Yes, in a sense; obviously, there are many stories of famous mathematicians who could only solve a difficult problem after a long soak in the bath or physicists who cracked a problem on late-night bus rides about the city. The difference with magic and prayer is that these are formalised systems to bring about the same effect—used for centuries, so probably potent—and so worth utilising.
As far as health goes, as regards our patients in the double-blind study, then what prayer does is canalise the will in an undistracted way to aid their recovery or sustain their life. Anyone who has been around the dying knows that there is a definite moment when they “give up” and then die shortly afterwards. Similarly, it is often observed that an older relative will sometimes “hang on” for the birth of a grandchild—especially their first. We see the same thing in ordinary life: you can see in someone’s face the moment they “give up”, say, mathematics at school or surrender in a football game—at that moment they are just like a body being washed onto a beach, rolling with the waves.
While there are obvious limits to what “the will” can achieve it does seem to be extremely important; and even the ability to effectively administer your own placebo through your magical operations will be significant, given the demonstrated efficacy of placebos. In the contemporary West, there is often very little need to canalise the will to survive in hospital; for the most part, terminal patients tend to be elderly—and they have few reasons to want to hang on, prayer would be altogether wasted.
So magic and prayer amount to techniques for self-development; and that sounds rather mundane, except that when implemented the solutions provided by these methods really do seem to arrive from the heavens—or from the pit, if you have taken that route—and so are uncanny. It is a case of self-enchantment: a sub-process, distinct from the “you” process that navigates the world, has taken steps to make it so but it all seems fortuitous and, well, magical.
Now, there are some people—leftists, basically—who will say that these techniques should not be used to ask for money, sex, love, or anything remotely for yourself. I think this is quite mistaken, if not malevolent; especially since the people who say this often use magic and prayer for those very objectives themselves. While it would violate another person’s autonomy and boundaries to cast a charm on their body without telling them what you are doing or asking their permission—as once happened to me—I do not see any problem with magic and prayer as means towards self-enhancement; we are effectively talking about the management of your own psyche, after all.
Those people who claim magic and prayer cannot be used in this way are often hypocrites, having done so themselves. Ultimately, their outlook stems from a scarcity mindset; as leftists, they think that there is only so much to go round and so everything must be rationed out—they do not understand the creative potential of the psyche, within certain limits, to create more goods. They want people to be weak and dependent, upon the state and upon a leftist priestly caste that will dole out the meagre resources according to who has been *good* this week. On the contrary, magic and prayer, in my view, should be used to allow individuals to augment themselves as far as possible; so our poor incel could use it to get a gf—or whatever he really requires, since sex is rarely the deeper problem in these cases.
The idea that shortages can be attributed to a “hoarder” is not good economics; but it is true that a person can hoard information, in the form of a conspiracy of silence, and this is what priestly types who moralise magic and prayer do. Of course, you should always be careful what you wish for; once your unconscious has been set to a task—particularly an ambitious one—who knows what lengths it will go to and what scenarios it will place you in to achieve the goal. Finally, I will say that it is just possible that if consciousness is non-material that these magical and prayerful activities might activate more than the psyche and that curious events could be brought to pass that seem to defy the laws of physics by some interaction between the physical universe and consciousness—something like real magic. This is speculation; for I have no idea if such a thing is possible, but perhaps everything really does get much stranger than you could ever think.