Category Archives: the supernatural

the fear of the occult because of ‘demons of the gaps’


This is a short post that fits in my ‘occultmergent’ series. (for those who like these kinds of subjects I have an announcement to make here soon. For those who like other stuff more, I need to finish my series on 1 Cor 13, and hope to write about asexuality and faith in times of rising oceans too…)

I saw a very interesting blog-post this morning called Introduction to the Chakras for Christians (and other nervous people), which incidentally connects very well to a discussion I’ve been having in various facebook groups lately, about what I call the ‘demons of the gaps’ approach that leads to a big fear of ‘the occult’.

adam_eve_behamAs an evangelical in my younger years I was taught a lot to fear ‘the occult’ and to stay away from it as much as I could, as if that were some very important  biblical commandment. But no, the word actually isn’t in the bible! (Just as the word ‘Antichrist’ isn’t in the book of revelation…). So where does it come from then? In the end it mostly came down to the idea that everything outside of the scientific laws of nature (paranormal, alternative medicine, homoeopathy, aliens, sixth sense, hypnosis, chakra theory, UFO’s even, new age, magic in fantasy stories…) is feared because it is most likely to be demons for some kind of reason.

And fear of demons is very important for some. Think about the ‘darkness’ books of Frank Perettti…

This approach towards the invisible world can be called ‘demons of the gaps’. I’ve named it that way since it works in almost the same way as a ‘God of the gaps’ reasoning: everything that cannot be explained by current science and laws of nature (that does not clearly come from God) is not natural, so: DEMONS!!! And because of that, run away from it. If it can be scientifically proven it is safe though…

This is sold as ‘solidly biblical’ because it can be illustrated with verses about witchcraft and stuff like that. As if it’s biblical to treat everything that falls outside of of our current understanding of the physical laws of nature. But no, this is not from the bible, the bible has nothing at al to do with lines that are drawn only after the enlightenment, so there is no reason to treat for example chakras as less ‘biblical’ than anything we have come up with in the last 2000 years in Western science.. Atom theory, gen therapy nuclear energy, whatever,… is not more biblical than let’s say chakra theory or the idea of auras. (It’s actually just a variation on the more liberal tendency to just push everything beyond that line away as ‘superstition’)

And let’s not forget that most things inside the scope of modern science can be used in very dark ways! The word ‘pharmakeia’ which is translated with witchcraft in the NT is the root for our word ‘pharmacy’ and does also mean the art of making poisons. Chemistry is as much its heir as alchemy and occultism!

This whole thing has nothing at all to do with the authority of the bible. It’s following the authority of modernist thought and then giving a Christian twist to it, nothing more or less. The bible has nothing at al to do with lines that are drawn only after the enlightenment, so there is no reason to treat chakras for example as less ‘biblical’ than anything we have come up with in the last 2000 years in Western science…

Not that I say there are no demons, and that we need to be careful with the invisible world.  We need to be careful with anything, be it humans, nature, animals, whatever, and the invisible world is harder to understand because it is, ehm, invisible . If lions and weirdos with guns can kill us in the visible world, and eating a random plant can poison us, this is a sign we need to be equally careful with the invisible world.

But the ‘demons of the gaps’ approach is as bad a way to get an understanding of them as the ‘God of the gaps’ approach is a good way to lead us to God…

What do you think?

Shalom

Bram

Our nonmagical modern world as the biggest magical trick ever…


This nextgargamel post fits well into my infamous occultmergent series. It will actually just delve deeper into a weird paradoxical thought that I posted some months ago on my fiction blog Oranderra (which is mainly in Dutch, here are the English posts). It is just some weird out-of-the-box theorizing for fun, and very un- and antimodern probably. Which fits very well in my year of demodernisation too. Don’t take all of this too literally as ‘this is exactly what happened’ though, it’s just one of my wild thoughts that might be complete nonsense…

The original paragraph that I wrote went like this:

If we assume that the world is more ‘magical’ than we see, and that a very strongly projected will does really have some power that some could call ‘magical’, could the projected will for centuries of a whole society to live in a non-magical world that’s only materialistic/naturalistic, (magically) create a world in which the more magical side is gravely suppressed?

If this is so then the non-magical modern world is the result of an unconscious magical effect…

So what on Earth do I mean here?

Let’s first just come out (with no surprise here to any regular reader) as a believer in what could very unrefinedly be called ‘magic’. I mean with this doing things that go beyond our current understanding of science and technique.
On the other hand, this does not at all mean that all fictional magic can exist though, just as a lot of fictional technology does and cannot exist either…
I don’t claim to know that much about it, but having power over the world around us through ‘paraphysical’ means is something that exists. Most of us Westerners don’t do this kind of stuff or believe in it, and those who do generally don’t walk around with a T-shirt that proclaims ‘I can practice magick’ (that’s not a spelling error btw, but that way of spelling the word comes from Aleister Crowley, and some people ‘into it’ still use it for a specific type of magic). I’m not too sure either it’s that healthy to mess with sometimes too.

Btw, belief in magic exists in a lot of cultures and tradition,  and it exists in the bible too (even if we distinguish it from miracles), as well as in our our history and still exists in certain circles, like those people from whom I borrowed to use the spelling ‘magick’. (Yes, I do know people on Facebook for example who claim to practice it for example) But it is a part of the world most of us are not very in touch with.

Let’s go back to my original statement. The reason we live in such a nonmagical world as moderns itself is the result of a very strong magical effect… I know this is a strange line of thought, so maybe I should explain it a bit more.

The idea of a strongly projected will having power does exist in many forms in many traditions (new thought, ‘the secret’, name it and claim it prosperity gospel, chaos magick sigils…) I’ve written about that in another post for those interested.

If you believe enough in something, you can make it happen… If you project your will strongly sometimes what you want to happen has more chance to happen. And like I said in my already mentioned post, the line between magic and prayer can be thinner than we like sometimes. And the line between psychology and magical effect is very blurry too when it comes to the effect of positive thinking.

Let’s add one little note here that can be easily overlooked though, which is that even if magick works it’s still not all-powerful nor infallible, and will often only the chance of something happening. And to have great effect you need to put in a lot of power. Magic(k) if it exists does not mean ‘anything is possible’, but it is still part of the paraphysical part of our ‘natural’ world, and it has to follow a lot of ‘natural laws’, whether we know them or not. If magic is real it will actually be as limited as technology, only with other possibilities and limits…

Collective groupthought already has a strong power, even without creating thoughtforms like egregores. So if we go back to our example, the effect of the projected will (even unconscious) of a whole continent for a long time can be expected to be quite strong. We enlightened Westerners tell ourselves we live in a non-magical world. There is no magic. We don’t see magic.

There is only what we want to see…

I believe this  does have effect. It might form a strong barrier between us and the paraphysical realm (and to God too even in a way), which can be a protection but it’s also impoverishing our outlook on our world.
(I’ve heard people from elsewhere who were afraid of the magical world in very specific, and I don’t believe all of it was superstition. Even though the problem with the invisible world is that it’s very hard to make out what’s real, what’s exaggerated and what’s superstition. Both the ‘witches’ and the Christians that are against them in certain parts of Nigeria are quite scary to me for example)

But even without that layer of overt magic the effect is there anyway: Even the collective self-hypnosis without external effects would be quite strong… So even just staying inside the domain of psychology it would still be very powerful. We want to live in a reduced materialist world, we will just see a reduced materialist world around us.

Also, confirmation bias is very strong here… Scientific-minded people will not even consider data that does not fit within their worldview. People will just ignore things that do not fit with their worldview, and only stick with what fits into their world. Any worldview works as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Every worldview is protected constantly by the people whose world depends on it…

So, what do you people think? Am I babbling nonsense or onto something?

peace

Bram

 

Some thoughts on thoughtform-creation


“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (Albus Dumbledore in the last Harry Potter book)

(TW: warning for some weird occult stuff that can be pretty dark. )

Long ago, in what can be seen as a previous incarnation of my current  occultmergent-series, I had a post that should have kicked off a serieus called ‘reclaiming supernaturalism’, that in the end only lasted a few posts. But that first post was an interesting one, that got responses from some people in the ‘emerging church’ dialogue even. The question I explored in that first post  was something like ‘where do spiritual beings like angels and demons come from in an evolutionary creation’, a question I will go back to more comprehensively in a future post, but part of the answer might be an idea that I then didn’t even know about and which I will explore in this post: the creation of thoughtforms.

What are thoughtforms
It’s not that easy to provide a good defintion of thoughtforms, also because some sources do have their definition built upon rather specific views of the universe, which is often the case with new-age and occult stuff. The explanations can be sometimes contradictory, and the jargon can be quite diverse and sometimes just unreadable or weird (see here,  here, here, here, & here for example. If you feel the urge to read those links, don’t get too weirded out and don’t follow instructions for creating them please!) I will try to give a simple understanding of the idea that isn’t tied to a very specific tradition and that could work in my own worldview…

Most basically a thoughtform is a being that ‘emanates’ from strongly projected human thoughts. Or in other word, a being created (consciously or unsciously) by human very strong human will. (hmm…) If you’re still reading now we will look together at what this could mean…

Thoughtforms can be created by one person on purpose (like a tulpa or a servitor) or sometimes accidentally, or come up from a collective thought (an egregore). They can still need the person or group that created them and only exist for them, or in some cases get a life on their own and even become ‘gods’ (note the small letter ‘g’ here, we’ll speak about that later) according to some occultists.
(Let’s not here once more  that the terms can be quite diverse in their use, and they sometimes do get mixed-up in different writings… It’s not an exact science with standard definitions and SI-units…) But the basic idea is that the thouhtform is more or less a spiritual being that’s created by humans, and not a conjured demon or other spirit. Thouhtforms created for a purpose are sometimes destroyed after they did what they were made for btw.

But let’s start with the beginning to see what exactly what I mean…

tulpa
The first example of thouhtforms is the so-called ‘tulpa’, a word that comes from  Tibetan Buddhism and according to wikipedia stands for a “magic formation generated by a powerful concentration of thought, or a materialized thought that has taken physical form. It is created through meditation and a process of intense concentration and visualisation. The story of Alexandra David-Neel who saw the monks doing this and did her own experiments and created a tulpa that was hard to get rid of later is an example.

But not only buddhist monks are in the business of creating tulpas. The website www.tulpa.info , which describes tulpas as just a ‘psychological phenomenon‘ can teach you hou to create your own tulpa, and defines them like this:

A tulpa is a consciousness that is very much like your own, in that has its own opinions, preferences, personality and so on. It can communicate with you, can have its own form, and can understand you like no one else could. It can give you second opinions on things and come up with original ideas of its own. A tulpa lives inside your brain, very much like you do.
(here is a longer description)

Now, what is interesting here is that tulpas, while they are described as a ‘psychological phenomenon’, don’t always seem to stay just in the imagined world of one person, but sometimes seem to interact with other people too. Using this technique to make an ‘imaginary friend’ might end up with a being that seems neither and is hard to get rid of, as Alexandra David-Neel experienced if we believe her story.

Smurfette was created by Garamel to punish the smurfs, but the original recipe is too misogynist to publish here...

Smurfette was created by Garamel to punish the smurfs, but the original recipe is too misogynist to publish here…

servitors
The word servitor launches us back into the occult jargon, and more specific in the shady realm of chaos magic. A servitor is more or less a created spirit-being that is created to aid the magician in a certain way. What shocked me is how easy it is with the internet to find a lot of ‘how to’ manuals to create such things. (To which I will not link now, I linked enough weird stuff already) A servitor is created, and sometimes destroyed when it fulfilled its purpose, but it sometimes can break free from its creator and get a life on its own. (hmm, reminds me of another story, of God creating humans beings…)

A note can be made here on the creation of thoughtforms on purpose. Usually a very strongly projected will and visualisation are used as we have seen already, in combination with an altered state of consciousness or trance, as the meditation of the Tibetan monks provides. In Chaos magic this is called a state of ‘gnosis’, and the used rituals have not much more purpose than getting into this state.
(Unconsciously made thoughtforms are probably made in a trauma or other very extreme experiences, and will not just come up under normal circumstances)

Lower progenitors of thoughtforms
If we use the classification of chaos magic, we can go up from here to egregores (thoughtforms emanating from a group that we’ll talk about next) but also go lower. A servitor is supposed to have some kind of personality or at least agency, but there are lower forms of ‘projected thought’ that do not create such things at all, like sigils (I don’t advise you to go experimenting with those) and actually just strong habits. The (re)programming of habits in NLP (sometimes used in the advertisement industry) could be seen as a very rudimentary progenitor of thoughtform-creation then, or at least a primitive form of chaos magic.  In the same way can a meme (yes, a concept invented by Richard Dawkins himself) seen as simple non-occult rudimentary form of an egregore.

Egregores
An egregore (sometimes spelled egregor or egrigor) is, according to wikipedia, “ an occult concept representing a “thoughtform” or “collective group mind”, an autonomous psychic entity made up of, and influencing, the thoughts of a group of people. The symbiotic relationship between an egregore and its group has been compared to the more recent, non-occult concepts of the corporation (as a legal entity) and the meme.”  It’s not that wikipedia is generally the best source for information on the occult, but I do think this is a good definition.

The simplest form is just the group mind, collective thoughts of a group, corporation of church, or the strange ‘atmosphere’ some groups can have. So we can use the word more generally in a way that does not have to imply that a ‘psychic  entity’ is formed, but the word is also used for the psychic entity that can behave like a thoughtform going wild and doing its own will, and modern magicians have their own views on egregores, and how to use them for their own purposes.

Godforms
If we go further in the line of thought followed by chaos magic, we get a being that’s powerful enough to function as a god with small letter g. A god is thus seen as a a very powerful thoughform created by a tribe for example, and all rituals and worship do indeed make it stronger. It does not seem so unrealistic for example to see the tribal gods of the OT Canaanite people as such. (This also might explain why in some fiction deities (or Japanese kami) need followers and worship to be powerful.)

Now that we’ve gone through all of this you should be able to read this weird story about the time-stretching servitor Fotamecus (I recommend reading it as fiction, although it certainly wasn’t meant to be written as such. ) and see how the hierarchy of thoughtform-like beings from sigil to servitor to egregore and finally godform functions in the thought of chaos magic. And even though this seems not the darkest example of modern magick, I still don’t recommend experimenting with it, kiddo’s…

So, that was my exploration of the thougghtform, which stayed neatly in the theoretical realm. Note that all of this has just been a exploration of how those things are seen in certain occult traditions and how it COULD work, not a ‘. It seems very plausible to me that such things can exist in some form, but do I believe that thoughtforms are the sole explanation for all spiritual creatures, including the one we call the Christian God? Not at all, when it comes to the Creator the roles are switched, and we and all of creation could be seen as thoughtforms created and sustained by Gods thoughts… I also don’t see this explanation as an explanation of anything spiritual, even if it could explain a lot of things from certain ‘ghosts’ and ‘imaginary friends’ up to some cases of encouters with aliens(?) and certain ‘gods’. We humans are not the creators of everything that’s out there. Spiritual beings could be an emanation of other energy sources in nature for example, or independent creatures from God (no matter if the bioloical part of the universe did evolve or not), or even something completely different…

So, what do you people think?
Pure nonsense or is there something to is?

peace

Bram

On the magic of willpower and exercising strong faith


The_Thinker_closeAs you can guess from the title in this post we go back to a controversy no-one is asking for and resume my (theoretical) explorations of the occult (unofficially called the occultmergent series) and its intersection with Christianity.  More specifically we’ll look at a very important principle in both magical/new-age traditions and the Christian faith, namely willpower and strong faith.

We can start safely in the realm of the psychological: Willpower and belief generally have a very strong influence on yourself. Or even on people around you, since it can be infectious. People are very sensitive to suggestion, and it is often true that if you believe you can do something, the chance of it happening is a lot bigger than if you believe for 100% that you won’t be able to do it. That’s quite basic, but the effects can be quite strong. Auto-suggestion can be very effective, and placebo can even heal people sometimes while they’re not been given any medication.

The same thing works with the outside world, starting with the beings around us: If we behave towards people expecting something, there is a bigger chance of getting what we want often. If we approach a dog as if it’s going to bite us, chances are big it will bite us. If we approach it friendly chances are much bigger it will be friendly…

Let’s note here already that those things never work in an absolute way. The only thing they can do is increase the chance that something will happen, even if it is just with a few percent…

Let’s go a bit further now. So far we’ve stayed just in the natural realm; but a lot of people go further than this, and will say that the same effect works not just with ourselves, people or animals, but also with the universe and the natural world. This exists in more forms, but let’s start here with the ‘law of attraction’, which in this current time is probably best known as the basic idea behind the  selfhelp-bestseller The secret,  although the term and idea are a lot older and originating in the new though movement. Wikipedia sums it up in the following terms:

The law of attraction is the name given to the belief that “like attracts like” and that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, one can bring about positive or negative results.

This is the same as older books named with titles as Think and grow rich preached and is said to be something that has been practised by people who became billionaires through it.  The whole idea is that you focus your thoughts and will on something you want, and really believe that you will get it, and then, eh, you get it. Usually there’s a few steps that are given, like these three from the secret:

The creative process as portrayed in the extended version of the movie The Secret involves three steps to attracting all your desires.

1. Ask – You must know what you want. I mean, really know what you want. The universe can’t deliver without first knowing what it is that you want to have manifested into your life.
2. Believe – You need to truly believe that what you are asking for will become yours. Doubts need to be pushed away. The idea that failure is a possibility will mess up the delivery.
3. Receive – It is important that you become an active player in reaching your goals. When opportunity comes your way you must not hesitate. Grab the brass ring when it appears

Put this way, I would call this nothing but a very primitive form of magic. Trying to manipulate the world around us through techniques that work in the invisible realm.  I actually do not believe that it can be seen as ‘summoning magic’ (‘the universe’ cannot be summoned as if it was a genie in a bottle and made our slave) and I am strongly inclined to think that whatever is happening here, it is only misguidedly framed here as a petitioning prayer with the Universe in the role of a Divine coke machine that gives you everything if you just ask it the right way. But I do not really doubt that it can work sometimes. (I have heard from people that it works. Focussing willpower and faith can have effect beyond the psychological effects and outside of ourselves.)

Note also that, I only say here that it might work, not that I agree with all the explanations behind it. The universe is not a Divine coke machine and God does not give whatever we ask either no matter what some ‘name it and claim it’ prosperity preachers tell us.  And regardless of what some believers say, this does at all not work all the time.  We need at least 2 ‘amendments’, which are actually things that I spoke of earlier when we were still in the realm of the psychological: Firstly it is not working absolutely, but increasing chances, and secondly, some people are better with it than others. ‘Magic’ is as much of a talent that some persons have and others don’t as playing music or painting, and like other talents it needs to be refined, even by those who use it unconsciously… So for some people it will work better and for some it will not work at all…

blessingIf we go back our topic, for by now at least Christians in my readership will have recognised this in a way very similar a much simpler version of it believed by certain charismatic/pentecostal Christians:  Derek Prince’s ‘blessing and curse’ idea is actually very close to this for example, except for the absence of blah-blah about the Universe and a Christian way of framing the whole thing. But the principle is identical:  If you speak positive things blessings will happen, but if you speak negative things curses are cast, that can have negative impact on your life, and that one might never get rid of unless they are broken in the name of Jesus. You can find a whole lot of things that might cause curses in your life according to Derek Prince here, ranging from illicit sex and anti-Semitism (yes, really!) to saying negative things to your daughter.

Or, let’s say the father has a daughter, 15. Like some young ladies of fifteen she has acne. And the father has to drive her to school every day and every day she’s up there in the bedroom putting things on her pimples. And so she’s late. And so the father gets exasperated and one day he says, “You’ll never get rid of those pimples, you’ll have pimples for the rest of your life.” Fifteen years later she’s a married woman with children of her own and she is still struggling with her acne. Why? Because of a curse.

While I would place this specific example probably just in the realm of the purely psychological with psychosomatic effects, I do not at al want to say that there is not something real behind this idea. But again, it is exaggerated into the extreme and a lot taken too much as an absolute all-pervasive reality by some. I’ve met Christians who lived in fear of negative words and got cramped by everything that they or other uttered that might be a ‘curse’… Which is a very unhealthy outlook on life, based on a half-truth, and another adventure in completely missing the point… (And the opposite of anything that could be called ‘freedom in Christ’)

There is a lot we can say about having strong faith. Surely Christians believe that having faith is important for a lot of reasons, and Jesus says that we can let a mountain drop itself in the sea if we have faith as big as a mustard seed (which is mostly probable to be taken as just a figure of speech, there are not much examples of mountain-moving faithful in history, with the spectacular exception of the Egyptian Saint Samaan…) But Christians should have faith in Christ, faith in God, faith in the Holy Spirit. Not just enough faith in the impossible so that it happens. That’s not Christian faith, that’s a form of magic.

Actually this power of strong belief does not have anything to do with God or Christianity, it is also acknowledged in a lot of other traditions, as for example in a very interesting and unsettling way in the postmodern magical tradition of Chaos magic, where it is seen as a very strong and potent power to get things done (regardless of the content of that belief, it is just a tool here). Mindreality dot com describes it like this:

Chaos magic works with metabelief. It is the belief that belief itself is only a tool for achieving effects and not an end in itself. It means that you can belief anything you want, but it is the belief alone that has power. It is the idea that belief is nothing more than a state of mind, and as such, can be manipulated by the will. Magic is the act of causing change in accordance with will, whether it be lower will or higher will. It is the will that moves the energy of reality.Belief is a psychological state that can be deliberately self-manipulated, although it has the power to shape our own reality, and sometimes other people’s reality as well. It is the means not the end, the vehicle not the destination. Any object that you use and any belief that you choose is just a means for magic to work its effect. Hence it is  the most powerful form of magic in the universe because it involves and transcends all other forms of magic. Chaos is the creative principle behind all magic.  (color markings from the original source)

I would say that this ‘belief as a tool to cause change’ is exactly what’s happening in all the other stuff we’ve been speaking about, both in the psychological realm and beyond (except for prayers answered by an act of the Creator breaking in into Creation, which is a miracle.). It might as well be just a ‘law of nature’ that isn’t recognised as such, but I do have the idea that it can be abused in sinister ways. (Even when we stay in the psychological realm btw.)

I do have to note one thing here, that isn’t such a problem if we take the route that I make here, but that is often a big problem when people take this kind of thinking to the absolute. I’ve actually encountered this in both Christians and new-agers equally. The problem is that the idea that you absolutely can ‘make it happen’ through enough faith or positive thinking or whatever, is that it can very easily lead to victim-blaming and the kind of mentality that makes the friends of Job look like very understanding compassionate guys! If something bad happens to you, you did something wrong.  You didn’t that enough faith. You’ve attracted bad thoughts, whatever the way it’s explained, it is your fault. And the ones without problems get very cold and take a distance, since the victim is to blame for their own problems.
This is why I repeat now again that none of this is absolute, and that if this kind of magic does work, all it does is increase the chance that something happens. It’s always possible that something else happens no matter how much faith and willpower and whatever you have, for a whole range of reasons that has nothing to do with you at all. You are not by any measure the most powerful being in the universe… Not God nor the universe can be put in your pocket as a tool to accomplish whatever you want without fail. The opposite is true, Christians are not promised that God will give us everything we want and take away all our problems, but that God will be with us, even if we find ourselves in the valley of death. Jesus became one of us to suffer with us and finally die on a cross… It is only in self-giving, not in grabbing power and success, that Christians believe that Jesus could defeat sin, death and evil in the resurrection.

And I probably should add that the Christian God is not at all an impersonal force that we can tap into to accomplish whatever we want, but a sovereign Being with His own will, and the Creator of all we see and not see.  It does not matter how much faith we have, sometimes the answer will be ‘NO’ if we ask something. We cannot use the Creator to get everything we want, and we cannot ascribe whatever we get through this king of ‘name it and claim it’ techniques to the Creator either…

(The most dark side of this kind of thinking is that taken to the extreme everyone in misery has brought it upon themselves, like the people in third world countries, wars, accidents, natural disasters and whatever. Here this line of thinking becomes just straight evil, and completely unchristian… Remember also the tower of Siloam)

And as a last note I should say(like I said before), I do fear that in certain hypercharismatic environments it might happen that people do bypass God, and work certain ‘supernatural’ effect on their own, just through human magic as I’ve described it here. I’m saying human magic here as I’ve described it here, not demonic influence as most of those people would see magic, but still it’s not Gods work, just human work. Elvis has left the building… Which is why the more unhealthy hypercharismatic corner of Christianity can be swimming in a sea of supernatural stuff without barely anything of Jesus left… If we have to have faith as a Christian, it is to be faith in God, faith in Christ, faith in the Holy Spirit. Not just faith in having enough faith to get something. That would just be a Christian version of ‘the secret’, or even chaos magic…

What do you think?

Peace

Bram

So why is there no ‘occult-mergent’?


A fea new kindw years ago I was interested in something I found on the internet that was called the ‘emerging church conversation’, also sometimes dubbed the ‘emergent’ movement. Being quite postmodern myself and an evangelical Christian of sorts (I still am both btw!), I learned a lot from it, and I can’t deny that some books and blogs I’ve read in that time were very important for me to become the Christian I am now. I think for example of Brian McLaren’s ‘new kind of Christian’ trilogy, and blogs that seem non-active now like Kingdom Grace, subversive influence, and the indestructible Tall Skinny Kiwi, and so on… It seemed to me that there was an interesting movement of more postmodern Christianity coming that went back to the core of what it is to follow Jesus.

But that was some years ago. And time is a train that makes the future the past, as a guy with weird sunglasses once sung… At the moment to me it seems like there’s not much left of what used to be called ‘the emerging church’, and the thing that goes on under the second name ‘emergent’ doesn’t feel the same to me. It seems like the whole emergent scene (and sometimes whatever ‘progressive Christianity’ is supposed to be too) has just become some very American kind of theological liberalism 2.0. And to be honest, it’s overall just too modern and myopically academically Western to me, and I find American ‘liberal PC’ generally just annoying. I’ve lost interest in most things under that label a while ago, approximately since the Tall Skinny Kiwi more or less said goodbye to emergent himself.  (He is back to blogging btw after a break of a year, and just wrote a piece about him killing the emergent church that’s very interesting if you get all the insider stuff…)

To me as an outsider it seems like the scene has both died out slowly and moved further from both Christianity and even postmodernism as I am able recognise them as a lost postmodern Christian myself. There’s a lot of ‘hyphenated’ – mergent groups left though, label, from anglimergent, baptimergent and the more recent charismegent group on FB, as well as queermergent and sceptimergent. The latter one (if I understand it well) being a group for people transitioning from Christianity to what’s called ‘scepticism’ in modern newspeak. (see also this for my thoughts on the state of contemporary ‘scepticism’) This is not that exceptional, it seems that for a lot of people the ‘emergence’ has not just been into ‘a new kind of Christianity’ (which is not that new after all sometimes) but also outside of Christianity into things that mostly seem to fall into new incarnations of the same old enlightenment tradition, that’s actually not new at all in any way either… Darling you’re so unoriginal… Which is not at all what I was looking for, as a postmodern Christian who is trying to broaden his scope outside of our myopic Western modernist views and who was hoping for something beyond the modern liberal/conservative dichotomies… It’s more like the opposite of what I was looking for actually… Liberal humanism isn’t very new nor exiting to me as a European either…

Anyway, there is a question that has been bothering me, and that is probably closely related to the way the whole emergent stuff ended up completely enlightenmentified. Why is there after the demise of the original ‘emerging church’ a lot of ‘neo-enlightenment-mergent’ stuff left under different names, but not for example an occult-mergent? Why if we are so progressive and open no intersections with for example neo-pagans or even buddhists? Why with a culture that goes in the direction of ‘spiritual, not religious’ no newage-mergent? Why is there talk about inclusion of muslims, but rejection of all forms of Christianity that are much less ‘conservative’ than most muslims I’ve met? Why does it all have to come down to ‘neo-enlightenmentism’ that is academically acceptable and so very purely Western (even with all the ‘white people bashing’ in certain corners)? Where is the dialogue with less Western worldviews, less materialist/naturalist ideas about the nature of, eh, nature, and people who don’t fit the zeitgeist in that way? Why does it seem like everything in the new emergent is emerging into less spiritual and more antisupernatural domains while even a lot of non-Christians aren’t going there?

Yes, my more neutral use of the word ‘occult’ in the original sense of ‘the hidden/invisible part of creation is not common and the word does have a lot of bad connotations, not without reasons even. One could think that no-one before me did ever come up with a world like ‘occultmergent’ (according to google I’m the only one to use it, as an unofficial title for a series of posts in my year of demodernisation. I wouldn’t be so stupid to use it as a nmae for a website or organisation…) because it is just the perfect bait for heresy-hunters, and that my quest for a more balanced view of the ‘invisible world’ is completely misguided and potentially dangerous, but I refuse to believe it’s more misguided than marrying Christianity to too much academically approved zeitgeist-cuddling enlightenment-thought, 21th  century edition. A lot of ‘occult’ and esotheric traditions do have more faith in God than modernist scepticism will ever have, and much more Christian influence than we’d like to see anyway. Most classical occultists and stuff like the golden dawn and a lot of other esotheric orders (and Islam) are still a lot closer to Christianity in worldview than Richard Dawkins will ever be…

The thing about a more open ‘occultmergent’ approach would be that it would be much more relevant to a lot of people I know. I know that a lot of Western people live in a completely non-magical world (I will write more about that idea later if I find the time) but the invisible world is very much a reality for a lot of people outside the Western world, and in the Western world outside of academia too. I have met and know a lot of people outside of Christianity who are interested in the invisible world and actively engaging with it, and not always in healthy ways. (same for some Christians actually) People experimenting with a lot of stuff that the ‘sceptics’ would never believe in but are still real (even if all of our human explanations and systems of thought about it are completely wrong) There is a lot of interest in the ‘occult’, and the ‘spiritual’, and there’s a lot of people into this kind of stuff.

A lot of them are not that disinterested in talking with me about it, although the black and white pentecostal demonology that I’ve inherited would completely put them off (and isn’t at all that relevant sometimes), but naturalistic enlightenmentism is also completely out of the question for anyone who has active experience with the invisible world. It’s like saying to Mr. Beaver of Narnia that animals can’t talk, and will never be able to talk. You will not convince them without destroying their existence…

And yes, even though I would like to see a more nuanced view than ‘everything outside the laws of nature is demonic’, I do know that the realm of ‘the occult’ is dangerous, especially for those who have no experience with it all. I also know that although it’s not all superstition as we moderns tell ourselves before we enter the heart of darkness and can’t deny it any longer, but there’s a lot of nonsense, exaggerations and very weird explanations of the invisible too. But in the end it’s much closer to any ‘biblical worldview’ (if such a thing exists) to accept the reality of the invisible world than to parrot our current Western ignorance on these things.

So what do you people think? What am I missing? Where am I wrong?

Bram

On magic, miracles, and the differences between them.


I know I’m not posting here very regularly lately. This new post is part of what could be seen as ‘the occult-mergent series’, in which I will look at the ‘supernatural’ world (even though I disagree with that very word already) as a Christian, also looking at the viewpoints of other traditions too while staying centered on Christ. (Btw: the word ‘occult’ is not in the bible, so there is no commandment ‘against the occult’ as some seem to think. I probably use it in a more or less neutral way here than it is commonly used.)

So, on the the 2 m-words in my title: Magic and Miracles are both not very popular with most moderns, at least outside of the realm fiction. As a believer in both (although I do certainly not at all believe in all things portrayed in fiction, it IS fiction after all…) I also see that there’s a lot of confusion about the two, as there is about all things that are dubbed ‘supernatural’ in a very ‘unsupernatural’ world as ours.

I do think a lot of the confusion comes from the word ‘supernatural’ itself. I do believe that ‘nature’ is a lot broader than the physical ‘laws of nature’ as we know them, and that magic and in many cases miracles too are perfectly part of it, and therefor perfectly natural. They only belong to a certain ‘hidden’ (occultus to use a word in latin) part of nature that is not as easy to understand as the realm of what we call ‘the laws of nature’ and can speak about in scientific terms and manipulate with technique. The line between those 2 parts of nature is nothing but the line between what we can investigate and understand as humans, and is only a limit of our abilities and perception, not a real line at all. The visible and invisible nature are not disconnected nor are they necessarily really different worlds. (There might be different worlds in the realm of the invisible, but that’s another story…)

So what is magic? Igargamel would define it as a manipulation of the invisible part of nature by humans to get a certain outcome. Magic is thus for the invisible world an exact equivalent of what science applied in technique is for the visible world. (I’ve written about that earlier, see also this and this post) The difference between both is that magic is not something most people in societies we know grow up with and thus learn, and that probably only a fraction of the people have a real talent for it.

There are roughly two kinds of magic, which probably do have a blurred area in between. The first kind is where the practicer uses his own power as a human being (which might be quite extraordinary in certain individuals), or channels the powers of nature for his goal. This could be energy healing or reiki for example. Some people have a gift for it, most don’t…

A second form of magic is invocation magic, in which the practicer calls upon other beings in the invisible realm to accomplish his goals. These beings can be very diverse, from natural spirits do djinn or demons, or even servitors that are called into existence by the magician itself.
While I am not sure that all invisible beings fall into the demon/angel dichotomy from my pentecostal demonology, even if there are being that are neither black nor white but ‘in the middle’ that does not mean that they are safe. It’s not because something is spiritual that it is safe, and we moderns have a lot of dangerous spiritual ‘ecological naivete’ that sometimes makes us as vulnerable to the invisible world as a dodo to an axe-wielding Dutch colonist… But that’s another story…

So what is a miracle, and where does it differ from magic? A miracle is something God (or in other religions other deities) does, often through a human vessel. So while it might be done with natural ‘energy’, it does ultimately come from God, and even though the miracle might be wanted by humans too, the idea comes from God, and it is done by God.

I can’t claim to have seen and experienced that much miracles, but I can’t deny that there have been ways in which God acted to interrupt the normal in my life or lives around me. But I do have one thing in mind very recently, where God indeed started healing while I was praying, and while it probably looked a lot like ‘energy healing’, I myself as a not-so-magically-talented guy could in a normal situation not have produced that kind of healing energy at all, and the outcome was more than and different from than I had prayed for (much better). So while this ‘healing energy’ might be in a way a part of nature and work like that in some instances, it came from God this time, it did what God wanted. And I was just a clueless vessel, not knowing what I did (my prayer grew more clumsy when I started noticing that something WAS happening) or that I could have done at all.

(And I have no clue why God chose to act that time, and completely surprisingly answered with healing, while a lot of other prayers have been left unanswered. I have no philosophical or theological answers here, only my very limited experience that seems to ridicule much of our human categories. I do think God does not like to be put in a box anyway…)

So the difference between a miracle and magic is that a miracle is an act of God, leading to the accomplishment of Gods purposes, and that magic is something done by humans, with or without the help of other entities, to accomplish human purposes. This might sound vague, but it is a very important distinction. In we bible we see a guy called Simon the sorcerer who is impressed by the power the apostles have through the Holy Spirit, and who wants to buy that power. Which is impossible, the Holy Spirit is God, and Gods power follows Gods purposes, and will not be enslaved by any sorcerer…

A last note that’s not unimportant here is that, for all the fear of ‘the occult’, some Christians who are well-acquainted with supernatural powers should better watch out more to not cross the line, and go from miracles to just performing magic. Like I said, some people do have more talent for such things (that others would call energy-healing for example) and if those people are Christians they will be attracted to more supernaturally-inclined churches (pentecostal/charismatic for example). Some Christians put so much pressure on ‘there can be miracles if you believe’ and ‘have more faith and you will move mountains’, and ‘name it and claim it’ that God disappears out of the picture. Have enough faith and your goals will be accomplished. And then we land in the terrain of the ‘prosperity gospel’.

But all of this ‘have faith and you will accomplish your wishes’ stuff is very similar to very basis magic outside of Christianity. The projection of ones will as a power to get a certain outcome is very prevalent in a lot of occult systems. Think of the new age ideas of ‘the secret’ for example. Another example would be how the postmodern chaos magick has ‘the power of belief’ as a tool very foundational. Others have seen influences of ‘new thought’ (actually a more old-fashioned occult stream) in the prosperity gospel stuff long ago, so I don’t think I’m telling much new stuff here.

Miracle-workers can slide into magic, especially if people do have certain ‘gifts’(and those people are attracted by this kind of Christianity) and they might at a certain moment lose touch with the Christian God, but keep the miracles going when ‘Elvis has left the building’. This can go on without gods power being replaced by other more dark entities, although that always could be the case too…

It can be less subtle even though. I’ve noted already that cursing someone in the name of the Christian God (even disguised as a bible verse and [ab]using bible verses) is a form of black magic, and is misguided invocation magic which tries to use the Christian God to kill people. (Which God won’t do, luckily…) ‘Conservative’ Americans praying for the death of their president Obama is a weird example of this mix of Christianity and black magic(k)…

Christians should watch out that they always keep centered on Christ. The ‘supernatural’ in itself does not have to be a sign of anything, even though we always find it very impressive here in this very ‘un-supernatural’ world. hristians are by definition pledged to Christ, and what makes them special goes beyond just ‘the supernatural’! It leads to the Creator through the Spirit and the Incarnate Christ.

So what do you people think?

Peace

2014 as a year of demodernisation for me


I know I’m babelnot very active as a blogger right now, and most of my posts at the moment are older writings that I’m finishing now and finally posting after a long time of waiting in the pipeline. There’ some stuff I need to finish (about Christianity and capitalism, and about racism for example) but I don’t have the time and energy at the moment, and I’m focussing on work, children, gardening lately, and most of my writing has been fiction in Dutch, so it doesn’t fit on this blog.

(My fiction can be found at Oranderra, but most of it is Dutch. I do hope to one day continue my series of ‘the paralian priest and the acosmist nun’ though.)

I will still be writing blogposts here about a whole variety of subjects when I have the time and inspiration for it. (And there are some unfinished things that will be finished and posted too…) But in 2014 I will be starting a new project, which I call the ‘demodernisation’ of myself, which will most probably lead to some blogposts too.

So what do I mean with ‘demodernisation’? I feel it is the natural next step after my ‘postmodernisation’, that might have helped me a lot in some areas, but it did not help me much in a lot of other things…
Some years ago I found the ‘emerging church discussion’ through the internet, and learned a lot from it, or learned the right words to describe how I already saw the world, for I am a native postmodern. But I must say that the whole ‘emergent’ stuff has become more and more frustrating to me. A lot of it is just American anti-reaction to a fundamentalism that I don’t know, and acts more like a photo-negative of that fundamentalism. No-one can expect me to be interested in a photo-negative of something I don’t care about. The photo and the negative will generally be equally uninteresting to me.

And the other problem is that the more photo-negative of fundamentalism enters the picture, the more modernist Christian liberalism (the natural negative view of fundamentalism), which has never interested me at all. I think it was Scott McKnight who said that McLaren at the time of ‘A new kind of Christianity’ did not arrive at a new one at all, but an old one (referring to older protestant liberalism) that actually wasn’t old enough. Although I like a lot of McLarens earlier books and have benefited greatly from them, new liberalism just makes me lose interest, and I’ve seen that in most corners of the ‘emergent’ dicussion. (Also, I and just clueless about the American ‘liberal PC’ stuff. It’s just alien for me and feels like a new form of fire and brimstone preaching from a new corner to me.)

So, the project now, with my postmodern identity established, is to go way beyond postmodernism and Western though to reconnect with my Christian (and human) roots outside of modernity. My flirting with Eastern Orthodoxy is already part of that, and I will try to read more about non-modern, non-Western forms of Christianity, and also other religions and philosophies from everywhere. (I want to know more about native American thought systems, taoism and pre-Christian European thought for example.)

I do think that I will also go back more to my Lewisian roots, and explore Chesterton and MacDonald more for example.

(Not that I don’t value some things about modernism, like human rights and gender equality, the realisation of how serious the destruction of ecosystems and extinction are, and general growth in scientific knowledge about the natural world, and modern medics. But apart from those and other advancements, there is so much we have lost, and so much dark side to even a lot of advancements, and so on…)

My ideas on magic and the occult are part of what you can expect, but I will try do ‘deconstruct’ more  things and look from other angles than both Western modernism and post-modern hyper-enlightenment thought.

I hope to I can keep on having very interesting conversations here with all of you…

peace

Bram