A collection of ConjureMan Ali's thoughts about magic, the occult, and spirituality.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Energy In Spiritual Traditions

The debate over the role of energy work in spiritual traditions continues to rage over the blogs with comment fields flowing with points and counter-points. Jason Miller wrote up a new blog where he addresses some of the points made and presents his own paradigm.

I hope to weigh in with this blog. Now, my perspective on the matter is going to be heavily informed by my own personal understanding of cosmology and spiritual work and is informed by the traditions that I follow.

The argument so far has involved the role of “energy work” within the various magical traditions. Some have expounded that it is essential for magic while others have put forth that it is no such thing. Yet, the issue is far more complex than that.

“Energy” is a term that is used by some magicians to define the spiritual forces they work with. The issue that I see is that this term is misleading. We try to differentiate magical energy from the energy we see in physics, but the connotations are difficult to ignore. In the paradigm of those who hold an energetic model the universe and the magician’s subsequent engaging of the universe is reduced to a mechanical process aimed solely at directed this impersonal magical energy.

This stems from a reductionist view point that really fails to see the spiritual complexity of things like prayer and the interrelation between spirit and Spirit.

Yet, the denial of the fact that there is a spiritual force that permeates the universe and holds a place in spiritual work is also reductionist and does so by envisioning a world not unlike the one seen in the Bartimaeus Triology (for those of you who don’t know what this is, this a kids fantasy series not unlike Harry Potter, where in an alternate history of the world magicians rule and act as the politicians of the British Empire. The number one secret of these magicians is that all their magic is done by spirits—even the simplest of spells is actually a demon doing the work. So you get images of flying carpets, but in reality it is a demon holding up the carpet).

The universe is far more complex than either of these points makes it to be. To this end let us turn to Franz Bardon who represents an interesting synthesis of hermetic emanation and eastern mysticism. In his paradigm, the Source, or the All created the universe and everything it by expanding outward. All of creation is created from this force, this principle that descends downward through the spheres until it reaches material reality. At various points this force coalesces and is granted sentience. Depending on the level (and the proximity with the source) you get a differentiation in individualism in the entity as well as different personalities. So in the highest spiritual plane you get the gods and deities and archangels, on the astral plane you get spirits, elementals, and angels, and on the physical plane you get humans.

Now, that spiritual force that emanated down from the Source reaches a level in between the physical and the Astral where it is called vital energy. This is not unlike od, and is this spiritual force that can be manipulated by the magician.

The resulting cosmology has unfortunately been taken literally. This force, which has been called the Astral Light, od, Vital Energy, Ketheric Light, the Spirit of the Lord, and other names, including the modern one of “energy,” has unfortunately been taken literally as energy. Bardon speaks in an allegorical fashion referring to this principle and force as energy. In reality it is a spiritual concept that cannot be defined easily. To call it energy is no more accurate than saying that magical element of fire is literally the physical fire.

What we know is that it is a spiritual force that binds the universe together, is the link between Man and Spirit, and is the medium by which spirits act.

This thought is in-line with Hermeticism, Sufi doctrine of Barakah, traditional Jewish Kabbalistic thought on the interrelation of the Names and Forces under its control etc.

Does this force, or principle exist in conjure, hoodoo, and the ATRs? It does, but it is not explicitly talked about, nor is it philosophically contemplated. Instead it is taken for granted. In hoodoo, for example, we have no discussion on the soul’s journey after death, or any other complex eschatological ideology, but it is taken for granted that they can be contacted and petitioned for help. Similarly there is no extensive philosophical treatise on this spiritual force that other magicians label, but it is taken for granted.

In conjure it is considered personal power. You often hear conjure doctors talking about “raising power,” or having “their spirit rise.” Both of these refer to power or force that exists within the individual. An example of this is provided in the story of a conjure woman who lived on a plantation. She was feared by all the other slaves and her master wanted to find out what was to her. So one day he saw a deadly snake and asked her to pick it up. Without hesitation she did so. When he approached the snake it reared its head and struck out at him. Next he asked a man to go and pin her down, the conjure woman took one look at him and the man froze right in his spot.

The idea here is that she possessed an internal power that helped her do these things, a power that was connected to the spiritual world, but one that came directly from her. This power is not unlike the vital energy of Bardon.

Another example in conjure is healing by touch. I am not talking about laying on hands. Here a conjurer has some inner quality about him or her that they heal a person just by touching them, without prayer, intercession, but merely by virtue of their own inner ability.

For the conjure doctor the relation between personal power and the power of spirits can be seen in the analogy of influence. If you walk into a room your personal charisma and charm alone may compel people to be influenced by you. On the other hand having a strong network of allies and colleagues extends your power beyond the room. In conjure, ideally you would approach spirits with your personal charisma and the authority of the big man upstairs; the supreme authority.

But what does this all mean? It means that many traditions hold that there exist two types of powers, or means by which magic is accomplished. One involves working with spirits in a variety of forms in the celestial hierarchy of things. The other involves working with a personally generated power that is directly connected to the spiritual force that connects, binds, and permeates all.

The real difference is not whether these traditions accept the concept of an “energetic” force, but rather where their emphasis lies and their views on limitations. Spirit-centered traditions like hoodoo view personal power as limited and therefore the conjure doctors turns outside of themselves to the big movers of the universe to get stuff done.

“Energy”-centric traditions emphasize the ability of the magicians to directly influence things by virtue of manipulating that spiritual force that connects everything.

The issue is that we remember that terms like “energy” are meant to be metaphors for a spiritual reality that simply is far too complicated to define.


peregrino said...

Sorry, What's ATRs?

ConjureMan Ali said...

African Traditional Religions/African Tribal Religions.