Mysticism and Magic

Though it is often claimed to, the flag of God does not fly over a battlefield — or a cash register — nor has it ever done so. (Da Avad Wudhi)

The Two Traditions

Right at the outset I am going to distinguish between magical and mystical activity, for these, properly differentiated, seem to me to hold the key to the two traditions.

Magic is concerned with the acquisition or exercise or making secure of personal or social power or knowledge by ritual means. Where social power is at issue, magic is normally termed "religion". It is concerned with a world of relative good and evil and with the management of these. It is oriented toward power, toward control, toward "doing", toward separation.

I believe that what humans call "good" and "evil" is ALWAYS strictly relative to one's own interests or needs, or to the interests and needs of any social group with which we presently identify. (See Back of Beyond)

When we pursue such a relative good (or evil - for almost certainly it will be an evil for somebody or something) by ritual means such as prayer, "creative visualisation", or white magic — or black or New Age magic — we are practising magic pure and simple.

I'll extend and focus that and bring it closer to home for most of us. Most prayer of the "Please grant us..." or "Please protect..." variety is ritual magic.

Most conventional religious activity is magical activity rather than mystical.

And make no mistake, magic of this kind can be effective. But it is sorceror's apprentice territory. There is an old adage that draws on this insight: "If the gods wish to destroy a man, they grant his prayers."

Mysticism is concerned with the realisation of, the personal experience of, the presence of God and of our oneness with that presence. It is concerned with a world in which there is no separate "other" to be good or evil to, or to be good or evil towards one. No good to pursue, no evil to do battle with. Just God. It is oriented toward "being" — toward love and acceptance and union.

(Hence a distinction I came across years ago, between human "beings" and human "doings".)

We don't have to wait until we die. The kingdom of God is right here, right now, waiting to be realised, which is to say, made real, in our lives and the lives of those around us. And thousands of people right now are aware of it.

When we "realise", ie, make real, that presence, that is the time when "all else is added", that is the occasion when "all things work together for good", but not just a local or personal good. Jung described the operation of this realised presence in our lives as "synchronicity".

The term mysticism has over the years been used rather loosely to cover many kinds of personal superphysical experience including, I suspect, a number that we should properly describe as psychoses.

I suggest, Saint Joan of Arc and others notwithstanding, that any superphysical experience which inspires a pursuit of some alleged "good", or a battle against some alleged "evil" is probably psychotic or, worse, political. The use of ritual, prayer, etc to forward either of these ends is also magical behaviour, not mystical.

Though it is often claimed to, the flag of God does not fly over a battlefield — or a cash register — nor has it ever done so.

I believe that if we practice magic, we are not "punished" for it by some kind of God that we have offended, but that the consequence of practising magic of any kind is that we stop short of the kingdom of God. We miss the experience, the right-now experience of knowing ourselves as souls in that kingdom.

"For what shall it profiteth a man...." (1)

Notes and References

Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism, 12th ed, p.70-71: "...The fundamental difference between the two is this: magic wants to get, mysticism wants to give — immortal and antagonistic attitudes, which turn up under one disguise or another in every age of thought. Both magic and mysticism in their full development bring the whole mental machinery, conscious and unconscious to bear on their undertaking; both claim that they give their initiates powers unknown to ordinary men. But the centre round which that machinery is grouped, the reasons of that undertaking, and the ends to which those powers are applied differ enormously..."

[1] Mark 10:18



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Our freedom, in the very movements in which it asserts itself, creates budding habits which will stifle it, if it does not renew itself by constant effort.

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Mysticism and Magic

At the House of Simon the Leper


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The Fall


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The Word of God II

The Word of God III

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Precious Moments

Random Jottings

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