I started, long ago, with a fundamental question: how can two magickal systems with radically different ontologies produce results? One answer is, of course, that different systems aim for results that are radically different. But this still leaves the question partly unanswered, because if the way that a system describes the universe is simply wrong, it shouldn’t work at all. We are assuming, for the purposes of this essay, that a given system isn’t simply a way to delude oneself into thinking something is happening. So, what’s up here? How can it be that both say, Vou Doun and Ceremonial Magick produce anything that an individual who is not self deluded would call “concrete results?”
I looked, at one point, at the ways in which the different systems of magick in fact have much in common. That is a much larger view. On the ground, we’re still dealing with different sets of entities, cosmological maps, and mythologies. In this case, I’m aiming for something less metaphysical and more operational.
What I would propose is that the thoughtform can be considered the primary medium of magick. A thoughtform is basically a construct of psychic energy. When a thoughtform is shared, it becomes an egregore, and when it grows up and has many followers, it can become a deity. Different systems also have an egregore, which determines to a large (but not complete) extent the kinds of experiences within that system.
The basic assumption here is that occult praxis requires some species of philosophical idealism (where mind or consciousness is taken to be the basic nature of reality) in order to be comprehensible. Certainly, one can try to find a reductive materialist interpretation, as arguably the preoccupation with a fairly marginal interpretation of quantum physics tries to do. But this more than likely will fall apart upon serious examination. It makes far more sense to assume that consciousness forms the basis of manifest reality and leave it at that, without attempting a shotgun marriage to mainstream science in order to justify oneself to people who will simply not listen anyway.
Idealism being assumed, we then note that this consciousness has various qualitative levels, for “as above, so below.” We go from waking to dreaming to deep sleep. In the Cosmos we find gross, suble, and causal. Within the subtle realm, we note various trajectories. There are the emotions, for instance. There are also natural forces, and the genii loci or “spirits of a place.” What we are dealing with, I think, are aggregates of consciousness given a particular quality by the various eddies of causality from which they have emerged.
These aggregates then impact human consciousness, which responds by creating a human face. This face colors the response to the aggregate force involved. Over time, this face becomes part of a pattern of interaction and expectations around that interaction.
I don’t think it is quite the case that humans “create Gods in their own image,” but rather, create their image of the Gods according to the dictates of their cultural circumstance. If a God gets buried for awhile, largely forgotten by human culture, when it again emerges, it will be colored by that culture as much as the one that first encountered the original aggregate and created a cluster of associations with it.
There are also, I think, levels of awareness on the part of thoughtforms. Being consciousness, like everything else, all thoughtforms are in some sense “aware.” But, like any other entity, there is awareness of the world around you, and the awareness of being conscious, or “self awareness.” A simple servitor construct, for instance, has very little self awareness. Over time, if fed and interacted with, something will click and the servitor will wake up and start acting somewhat autonomously. But one off creations such as artificial elementals are necessarily limited in this regard.
Natural forces, as any weather witch knows, have their own personality. Thoughtforms around the big, unstoppable, eternal forces of the cosmos quickly become Gods, as do those entities corresponding to the Archetypes in the collective unconscious. These latter should not be reduced to the patterns of Jungian analysis, however. They emerge from the stew Jung identified, but are no more “mere” symbolic representations of them than humans are “just” examples of the primordial sea from which the first fish with legs emerged.
My reason for thinking of the thoughtform as the basic medium of magick has to do with my own peculiar hierarchy of value when it comes to theory. If a concept can be found that identifies a trend or function across systems, without diminishing anything other than the exclusive validity of those systems, I think it is more “true” than those other conceptual frameworks. The thoughtform as a basic medium does this.
First, it identifies a mechanism that can be clearly seen in almost any context. Whether one is dealing with the Catholic Mass or the rites of Vou Doun, they will see various thoughtforms at work. And neither system loses by the identification of a common mechanism.
Second, it clears up such quandaries as color associations and the uses of various herbs and stones. For instance, the question of whether specific stones or herbs have inherent magickal properties, or whether the power is “merely” in the practitioners imagination. The answer to that is “yes” to both options. A stone has a particular signature, which gives it a resonance with a very broad but ultimately finite set of phenomena. But the specific usage in a given system is related to the established thoughtform or “spirit” that the users of that system have crafted around that signature. (This need not be conceived of as a “spirit.” It can also be considered dynamistically, as in natural magick.)
Colors, being more etheric in nature, have a much broader (possibly infinite) range as to what they can be related to. In this case, it depends on the system and how it parses the forces behind those colors. One can classify systems as intuitive and rational or planned out. In the former, color associations would be based on emotional response to the hue, as well as more obvious shared symbols. Think green for money. In rational systems, correspondences are based on a framework of associations that can be either channeled or derived by some other form of symbolic exegesis.
Now, naturally, all this falls apart if we abandon idealism, or if we assume that one system really has managed to come across the real absolute and correct structure of the universe. However, I think that for more sophisticated practitioners, the idea of the thoughtform as a basic medium of the Work will help ameliorate pointless controversy and encourage exploration of new possibilities.