Experimental Magic: The Evolution of Magic

Experiment with your magical practice by learning how to apply art, pop culture, neuroscience, psychology, and other disciplines to your magical work, as well as exploring fundamental underlying principles of what makes magic work. You'll never look at magic in the same way!

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Anthropomorphic Assumptions that show up in magical work

One of the challenges with exploring a non-anthropomorphic approach to magical work involves uncovering the anthropomorphic assumptions that show up in your thinking and practice. These assumptions can be quite subtle and yet can create a cognitive dissonance with the work you are seeking to do. At the same time, another challenge we face is the inevitable fact that at some point we need to translate and interpret experiences into something we can relate to. Anthropomorphism is one such route, though it is not the only route. I think that if we are to genuinely apply a non-anthropomorphic perspective and practice to our spiritual work we necessarily need to identify the anthropomorphic assumptions which may come up. Below are some such assumptions, as well as how you can identify them.

Applying humancentric categories or labels to experiences. One of the assumptions that comes up involves seeking to categorize or label a non-anthropomorphic experience. We use labels and categories to organize our thoughts and define the world around us, but the problem with such an assumption is that in our haste to define and categorize we can miss out on being open to experience. Admittedly, it can be argued that we use labels and categories to provide some type of explanation for what we've experienced, but perhaps in seeking to explain it using categories and labels what we lose is something essential about the experience that can't be explained in that way. A better approach would be to take your time with the experience and seek it out multiple times. As you have it, allow yourself to express it without attaching labels or categories. Whether its stream of consciousness writing or painting or music or some other form of expression open yourself to expressing it differently.

Expecting that what you encounter will speak your language and explain what's happening in your language. I think, at some point, every practitioner has this assumption (and the one above it). I know I have. You do a working to connect with a spiritual being and you expect it to show up and speak in your language and explain the experience you are having. Maybe it even does, but don't fool yourself...if its doing that, its just because it knows you have that expectation and its indulging it. But what might you be missing out on by expecting that kind of communication? You could miss out on a lot. Certainly, in my work with the neurotransmitters, I've done away with this expectation and had much deeper experiences because I'm not using language as a crutch for the experience.

Applying human spiritual concepts to experiences. There is a tendency to apply human spiritual concepts to non-anthropomorphic entities or living beings. The assumption behind this is that because humans have these kinds of concepts, other such beings must as well. For example, if you assume that every living creature has deities of their own, you are potentially making an anthropomorphic assumption because humans have deities, and so why shouldn't animals, plants, insects etc., also have such deities. The question to ask is do they even need such deities or is that a human construction? On the other hand, it could also be argued that it's an anthropomorphic assumption to assume that only humans have deities. That's a fair criticism to make, but what I would question is how much the human definition of deity is being applied to those other beings, and therein I think lies the critical inquiry needed for such work. Humans do bring their own spiritual concepts, organizations, etc., into an encounter and that can lead to anthropomorphic assumptions about how other beings structure their own spiritual realities.

Applying human perspective to the environment you are in. We are very limited in our perceptions of the environment, but because those are the perceptions we have access to we apply them without being skeptical of how they shape our experiences. Nonetheless if we recognize that what we experience is filtered through our senses and our human filters, we can question how we're applying our perspectives to the environment and see if we can't open ourselves to new experiences.

Turning an experience into a symbol. Similar to expecting an entity to speak your language. There is a tendency to make an experience into a symbol as a way of being able understand it. It's a useful technique in its own way, but it can also really limit you if you aren't careful. On the other hand, you might find that the best way to convey the experience is through a symbol. If that's the case, make it clear that the symbol is just a gateway and provide explicit instructions on how to use it if its necessary. For example, what I'm finding with my work with neurotransmitters is that I'll experience the sensations in such a way that it creates a tactile feeling that translates into a symbol, which can be used as a gateway to actual experience. It's useful, provided that I remember that the symbol isn't the actual experience.

Expecting a human shape and response when you encounter an entity. This is the classic anthropomorphic assumption. You expect either a human shape or something else familiar to you. Some entities will oblige you, but again you got to wonder if that's really what it is or if its just appearing that way because it makes it easier for the human. However if you're open to leaving that assumption behind you might find you are more adaptable than you thought and you might have a much more genuine experience.

A Caveat

So I've listed these assumptions. There are likely more (feel free to share below in the comments) but I also feel the need to make a caveat, for the specific reason that we do need to accept that we are human and that does play a role in the experiences we have during the course of our spiritual work. We should be aware of anthropomorphic assumptions, but we shouldn't dump the baby with bathwater either. There is the inevitable reality that we will translate the experiences we have into something we can relate to and there will always be a human element in that translation. The key isn't to reject it out of hand, but instead consciously acknowledge it and call it out for what it is while also describing the practices and experiences. That's the solution I've come up with, though I am, of course, open to other suggestions.

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Taylor Ellwood is the author of Pop Culture Magic Systems, Space/Time Magic, Magical Identity and a number of other occult books. He posts about his latest projects at Magical Experiments.


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