“SOCRATES: I see, my dear Theaetetus, that Theodorus had a true insight into your nature when he said that you were a philosopher; for wonder is the feeling of a philosopher, and philosophy begins in wonder.”
(Plato, Theaetetus 155c-d, tr. Jowett; “Wonder” in Aristotle.)
In 1948, physicist Fred Hoyle, along with two of his colleagues (Thomas Gold, and Hermann Bondi), responded to the hypothesis put forth by Edwin Hubble that the universe was expanding. They argued that the universe had to have some counterforce to gravity which enabled it to stay in a static state. The “steady-state theory” of cosmology was an attempt by Hoyle and the others to explain away the inevitable conclusion of Hubble’s ideas, that the universe had to have begun a finite time ago. A theory which is now accepted by almost the whole of the scientific community: the Big Bang theory. The now defunct steady-state theory was an idea accepted by the majority of the scientific community throughout much of the 20th century. Even Einstein included this concept in his equations about general relativity by including his “cosmological constant.” The reasons for this are many, but more than anything it had to do with a reluctance to part with a presupposition the scientific community had since the early days of the Enlightenment; that the universe was static, stable, and eternal in the past.
Steady-state was convenient for other reasons as well. It was rational, elegant, and allowed the materialistic scientific community to get around those pesky eternal questions which could lead to the idea of an immaterial cause of the universe. This very fact was touched on by Paul J. Steinhardt and Neil Turok in their book Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang:
“Hoyle, in particular, found the big bang abhorrent because he was vehemently anti-religious and he thought the cosmological picture was disturbingly close to the biblical account. To avoid the bang, he and his collaborators were willing to contemplate the idea that matter and radiation were continually created throughout the universe in just such a way as to keep the density and temperature constant as the universe expands. This steady-state picture was the last stand for advocates of the unchanging universe concept, setting off a three-decade battle with proponents of the big bang model.”
Today, scientists have painted a different picture of existence. While few had been so bold as to say outright that there is a God or an immaterial nature to the universe, as with all human life, their actions speak louder than their words. The tapestry of existence that modern science has shown us is vast and complex, requiring different rules for the quantum and macro worlds and defying, even unto the modern age, a holistic explanation. However; the further science has gone to explain our world and existence, it has found more questions than answers. Tracing the history of quantum physics and cosmology in the second half of the 20th and early 21st century finds a person speaking a language which would have a more fitting place in the pages of Harry Potter than a science journal.
Quantum tunneling, entanglement, superpositions, multiple dimensional spaces, multi-verses, and time dilation are now all included in the daily discussions, blog posts, and class curriculums of present and future scientists. The harnessing of these ideas has not just led to theoretical discussions but to practical and new scientific discoveries, which continue to shape our daily life. Everything from the treatment of diseases to the computational power of this computer age would have astounded and amazed the scientists of Hoyle’s generation. Within the next hundred years, science is poised to advance to such a magnitude that what our grandchildren will experience on the daily can only be imagined in our wildest, sci-fi, fantasy television shows. Science and what we would call religion is definitely coming closer together by the day. Coming at all these facts from the point of view of a teacher of the occult; however, sees me looking at all this in another way. When I ask students of the Order what they think Magick is, many of them answer me with vague, Hollywood inspired anecdotes about what they will someday be able to do. Moving things with their minds, reading others’ thoughts, and defying the laws of physics are just a few of these answers. Answering in this way, I think that many students seem to be missing the forest for the trees.
Even for the ancient ascended masters, Magick was about discovery. Questions regarding what to do with those discoveries, which is to say how to attain power from the knowledge these sages amassed, was always somewhat secondary and more often asked by those with a political agenda.
Few know today that what is called science is a recent invention of mankind. It is the descendant of an older and more holistic view of inquiry called natural philosophy, which itself was just a branch of philosophy. Natural philosophy asked questions concerning how the natural world worked. It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that natural philosophers started to specialize more heavily. They moved away from chemistry and anatomy and more to the theoretical mathematics of physically moving bodies. It was at this time that natural philosophy became gradually broken up into lesser schools of thought known as science (Scientia, knowledge, or “to know”). A person who graduates from Oxford University with a degree in physics, for instance, still technically graduates with a degree in natural philosophy. So, what does this have to do with Magick?
The answer is in what Magick originally sought to do. Natural philosophers were once just people who sought to answer questions about the physical world. Eventually, they saw that thought experiments delving into other schools of philosophy were also valid, ideas such as metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology. It was primarily for this reason that early scientists were mostly theologians, as well as, being alchemists, mystics, and indeed, wizards.
Thomas Aquinas thought of theology as the “highest science”. Feeling that only it could incorporate all physical, as well as, emotional and spiritual phenomena one may experience. This was also true of Isaac Newton. Newton not only explored physics and mathematics, but also translated the Bible, practiced alchemy, and studied Kabbalah. Lesser known, Newton also translated the Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus.
The point is, that the modern sciences we practice today are an outgrowth of hermetic, mystical practices of sages who came before. The methods and mathematical formulas are the brain children of logical thought experiments conducted to find the presence of God in the world. Not to just simply understand the world for its own sake.
Magick then was once as it is now; a mystical methodology applied to philosophical or theological theory. Where the rituals of the past sought to invoke the gods to affect change; the scientific method is now applied as faithfully as any ritual of the past, in order to find truth and affect an outcome.
Magick was experimental, a way to explain the moving spheres, the changing of the seasons, and the complexity of illness. This is exactly what we use science for today. A natural philosopher of Newton’s time would’ve seen very little contradiction between trying to understand how a body works as a unit, and what affects and influences the holistic, spiritual, and physical universe had upon it.
In short, the natural philosopher would’ve been perfectly fine in delivering opium for pain, while simultaneously consulting the stars for the best treatment.
Magick in my opinion then is science, a holistic science. This deeper science can encompass the discoveries of recent days without abandoning the wisdom of the past.
So again, we turn to the age-old question: what is Magick? And if we look more carefully, we begin to see the answer.
Magick is not a theory, but a practice. As is written in the very name, the theoretical part of the formulation is not in the experiment (theurgy or liturgy), but in theology. Seen in this light, like the many phases of the moon, science and scientific discovery begins to change in nature. Your cell phone becomes a magickal spell, a physical device capable of holding a thousand volumes worth of books in only a few ounces of space; the passcode that you draw on your lock screen, a sacred sigil; the messenger app a way of communicating your thoughts at the speed of light across thousands of miles. Also, like so many spells before it, it is dependent upon geometry, mathematics, code, and genius. When we view a website or pick up our cell phones, read the newest quantum theories, or understand the newest mathematics, we are as the sages of the past; understanding the world, questioning the gods, and stepping closer to enlightenment.
A lesson can be drawn here from that sacred law of the Order, that sanction which has frustrated and inspired so many: “Have no opinions about truth.” Which brings us full circle, back to Hoyle and to all the students to whom I asked the question, “What is Magick?” Hoyle was dogmatic in his approach to see all the world as mechanical and materialistic. While the preverbal students were unable to see Magick through any context other than the immaterial (or the fantastical).
Magick is about balance. Standing too far to either extreme forces one to be unable to accept a new viewpoint, even if the truth makes one become evident. For Hoyle, the universe was expanding, which means that it was not eternal in the past, which again returned the scientific community to its roots. It is again grappling with philosophical questions in light of the Big Bang. How did the universe arise from nothing? For, from nothing, nothing comes. That is, unless you include the idea of the immaterial reality, bringing forth the material reality.
Without accepting both in their proper proportions, we are not in balance. We form an opinion about truth and enter denial, and in so doing, lose the most powerful Magick of all: understanding.
There are many faces to Magick. Not all of them are to be found in the dark places where we might perform our rituals. Some we give as Christmas gifts.
“For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance, he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.”
Robert Jastrow, God, and the Astronomers