Ken Wilber, the Occult, and Maps

Ken Wilber has a lot of very interesting things to say, and his Intergral Philosophy has a great deal to challenge and enliven the practice of magickal practitioners of all stripes. That is, if they can get past his attitudes toward occultists and Neopagans. For instance, what how is a Witch supposed to respond to a statement like this, from A Sociable God?

But it should be noted that most of the teachings and practices that call themselves “esoteric” or “occult” are, in my opinion, prelaw; they are thinly rationalized magic, not psychic and not saintly. Astrology, tarot, ”magick”, voodoo, festival ritual, and such largely follow exactly the deep structure of magical/primary process cognition and they – along with other forms of prelaw, preconventional consciousness – are not seed crystals of the future, unless that future spells regression.1

To begin with, it should be understood that the above statement requires one to have read the entire 127 pages that come before it in order to have some kind of idea what Wilber is actually saying. That being the case, however, what he means is only slightly less pejorative than what it sounds like “cold”. It’s the difference between “you suck” and “you suck if you want to be part of the unfolding of human society toward a fully integrated perspective.” Basically, Wilber has spent so much time in the map he has created (the AQAL or “All Quadrant, All Level” framework) that he cannot distinguish map from territory.

The basic gist of his beef with the occult is two fold. The first would be that it reflects a Romantic desire to return to a theoretically “better” age when we were “in tune with nature” and so forth. This desire, Wilber would say, is a classic pre/trans fallacy in which an early, less differentiated perspective is seen as identical to a later, more integrated one. Like taking the First Matter to already be the Stone of the Wise.
Second, he would say that the occult reflects infantile narcissism, in which the individual literally experiences the world as an extension of his own psyche. Or, in an individual slightly more advance, the mythic perspective in which an animistic universe can be manipulated by signs and actions. All of which can be true, and the modern occult community is filled with people who could make such judgments valid.

But Wilber is not saying that this can be the case, but that it must be, a priory. This is because his AQAL framework requires that there be a Mythic/Magical stage, a Deity Mysticism phase, and a Nondual phase, among others. There is a definite progression, and each stage has a characteristic manner in which it determines the way an individual will experience spiritual phenomena. In other words, in this framework, one can have a peak experience and interpret it in a way that is either characteristic of Magic or Deity viewpoints. Apparently, one cannot use magick from the perspectives beyond the Magical stage and interpret them in those terms.

The issue here is that the AQAL framework contains three divisions when it comes to spirituality. There are states which are experiences within consciousness. Then there are stages, which are the perspectives from which one experiences the various states. Finally, there are lines or streams which are different varieties of intelligence. What Wilber has done with the occult is to assume that the typical occult system or technique necessarily arises from a Magic/Mythic perspective as defined by AQAL. And that perspective is tied to the pre-conventional, narcissistic stage of individual development. So, one cannot use Tarot from a non-dual perspective according to Wilber.

Wilber has, I feel, fallen into the error of assuming that one can understand magick by reading about it. If you could, there would be more adepts and fewer people reigning over their parent’s basements and spending their weekends playing dress up. If there is a tendency toward this sort of thing, it is because many people in our logomaniacal society have committed the same error, not because of any perspective “inherent” in the occult itself.

It’s such a classic example of a map being confused with territory that I almost want to write Wilber a letter about it. But, he’s taken to telling critics to “suck his dick,” so I doubt I’d get a much more constructive response. Perhaps he would benefit from actually meeting, interacting with, and learning from us Romantic narcissists. He’d have a lot more fun, be a little less cranky, and maybe learn something about how mental frameworks distort ones view of a thing.

Which was part of his point to begin with.

1Ken Wilber, A Sociable God Shambhala Publications 1983, revised 2005

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