Despite being of a tradition whose initiation protocol uses astrological symbolism, astrology is among several parts of the occult that I have no use for. How does one go about drawing such lines, though? For instance, how can one believe in “spirits,” yet be highly critical of certain other folks’ anti-scientific worldviews? This entry is about where I draw Tenebrous Satanism’s “science vs. magick” lines, and why…
When it comes to “science vs. magick,” one might say that I am a woman of contrasts. I am known to time my occult workings with certain lunar phases, yet ignore all other considerations pertaining to planets and constellations. I believe one can derive meaningful insights from tarot or runes, but not from horoscopes or palmistry.
Perhaps most glaringly, I “talk to demons,” yet nonetheless harbor a strong negative opinion about certain manifestations of science rejection.
This entry is aimed at explaining how and why I draw these lines the way I do.
My particular way of drawing “science vs. magick” lines stems from the following three convictions:
- When it comes to understanding the causal realm, science is among humanity’s best tools. Any flaws associated with science are, in the vast majority of cases, best fixed by more science.
- Nonetheless, science does not encompass the whole of human experience. This is because human beings are not 100% rational, being, additionally, creatures of instinct, emotion and intuition. Personal experience of the acausal is an example of something not encompassed by science.
- Regarding the acausal, people should be free to believe whatever their own experience suggests is appropriate, so long as i) whatever they believe is not causing obvious harm to others, and ii) they openly acknowledge that experience of the acausal is subjective – i.e. do not try to defend or misrepresent such things as causal, objective, etc.
First conviction: The power of science
Pretty much all forms of Satanism openly espouse wisdom and critical thinking. I think it’s then a fairly intuitive move to translate such values into a generally pro-science attitude. The better we understand the World, the more effectively we can adapt and innovate in response. Human flourishing is served – or, at least, ought to be served – by this dynamic. Some Satanic denominations, such as The Satanic Temple (TST), even make direct statements about the value of science in their creedal tenets.
One could also assert that science is itself an embodiment of evolution. Good ideas yield results, and are kept. Bad ideas fail to yield results, and are discarded. Novelty, complexity, and the overcoming of adversity all increase thereby. One can see how, both from causal and acausal perspectives, such a trajectory is desirable.
This is not to say that I am one who idealizes or romanticizes science. Human reason is often biased, producing flawed research and uncertain conclusions. I think it is obvious, however, that the best response to such issues is to just do more, better research. Knowledge will always be imperfect. But it is still better to seek it, than to stop trying.
“Stop trying” is, on the other hand, the commandment frequently issued by reality-denying ideologies trying to protect themselves. All too often, everyone would be better off if such ideologies were defeated by that which science stands to discover. But I will say more about ideological resistance to science below.
Second conviction: The limitations of science
On the other hand, the limitations of science are incarnate in certain manifestations of homo hubris I’ve encountered. The specimen I have in mind is what I call the “five-minute atheist.” This is an individual who, within five minutes of meeting you, must make it crystal clear that they do not believe in anything “spiritual.” “The universe is just atoms,” they will say in their snarky, smarter-than-thou way. Such individuals are, I have observed, almost always “men bitterly mystified about why they are single.” Somehow it doesn’t occur to such people that “compulsive need to piss on everyone else’s sources of meaning and wonder” could possibly be a factor in said problem.
My view is that, like it or not, “strange experiences that feel personally meaningful” are part of the human condition. I don’t doubt that one can “explain away” such things with science – including much that I myself have experienced. I question, though, why do that? It is one thing if delusions are driving a person to harm themselves or others. But in cases where this non-rational element is making things somehow better, why not leave them to it?
To give a more concrete example: if one culture sees a powerful shaman where another sees a broken schizophrenic, and both the person and their community are better-off for the former interpretation, why insist stridently that the situation be framed in the latter fashion? Does such insistence not seem suggestive of personal arrogance, an imposition of cultural supremacy, and so on?
An increasing number of people will defend the shamanic interpretation by invoking “other ways of knowing.” I, then, see no reason why “other ways of knowing” cannot offer a valid defense of various other forms of personal spiritual experience besides.
Third conviction: The validity of acausal experience
Beliefs of mine
My own experience as an occult practitioner has convinced me of certain propositions regarding the acausal. In pretty much all cases, these echo common convictions of many spiritual people – but with significant provisos.
For example, I believe that:
- There exists an ultimate entity/force, which both transcends material existence and pervades it. However, I also believe that this entity is largely bereft of human-like qualities – i.e. it is not “moral” and does not “care” about human beings.
- This unifying-oneness-behind-things can be experienced through such occult practices as meditation and divination. However, I also believe that most novices in these areas will spend much time experiencing merely their own unconscious, before they become able to distinguish this from acausal experience per se.
- Ritual magick can both bring about internally-transformative results, and impact the external World. However, I also believe that the latter kind of effects are not always present. Moreover, when present, they often manifest subtly, such that they look like mere “coincidence” from a causal perspective.
- It is possible to use occult methods to experience communion with acausal beings. However, I also believe that such experiences are inevitably filtered through the unconscious mind of the individual.
A recurring theme here is that, although I personally believe strongly in the acausal, wishful thinking and credulity do nonetheless often distort our perception of it. I therefore never quarrel with people who argue that one is really just talking to one’s own unconscious mind. For indeed, I suspect many occultists are in fact doing exactly that…
My take on occult experience
All of this speaks to why I am fond of the term acausal. It is a term that, in essence, says, “something I have no causal proof of, and therefore am not going to argue about with anyone who demands ‘evidence.’” It is, as I see it, pointless to shout “but all of that is not scientific” against such matters, as if that were a knock-down argument against them. My response in such cases is, “yes, I know. I never claimed it was scientific. I merely claimed it was my experience.”
One should, I contend, judge acausal beliefs on their pragmatic merits, rather than their rationality strictly-speaking. If believing such things caused a person to harm others, or to behave in a self-defeating way, this would be a problem. Contra such issues, though, Tenebrous Satanism insists upon empathy, and does not believe that anything occult “works” in the absence of complementary causal initiatives. (Plain language example: out-of-work witches had better be accompanying their luck spells with actual real-world resume-writing and networking… :))
I have tried, to the best of my ability, to propose a spirituality that, though “dark,” is ultimately constructive. And so long as such a spirituality is indeed helping a person cope with existence’s Perils in a constructive way, I think there is much to be said for leaving such people to do as they please.
Objection to ideology and science denial
Here’s then my thought process about what might seem like my most glaring double-standard: On what basis is it OK for someone (me) to “talk to demons” while being critical of others’ unscientific beliefs?
Examples of what I object to
The main point I wish to make here is that “talking to demons” does NOT lead me to any of the following conclusions:
- “I must live my life in way that’s contrary to my true desires, because otherwise I won’t go to heaven.”
- “Vaccines don’t work, and I’m totally not creating a risk to myself or others by being against them.”
- “Supposedly-existing spiritual essences of unborn beings are more important than women’s lives.”
- “It’s fine to ruin the livelihood and threaten the family of any scientist who proposes things that I find ideologically inconvenient.”
- “My race of people is better than other races of people, and we have the right to dominate and/or eliminate those others.” *
- “The demons want me to worship them with a human sacrifice, so I’d better make them happy.” *
In all of these cases, unscientific belief leads to concrete harm to someone’s well-being. There is also, at the same time, a more-abstract-yet-still-significant-harm via “I am impeding the flourishing of both myself and others by refusing to learn something about how the World actually is.”
(* Note: yes, I know, when Order of Nine Angles (ONA/O9A) “talks to demons,” they manage to arrive at conclusions such as these. I and other occultists have, however, talked to the same entities, without coming to such conclusions. I therefore see no reason to hold O9A’s ideology against myself or other “O9A adjacent” folk who explicitly reject the propositions in question. See this entry for more on the issue of being “O9A adjacent.”)
Vs. what the acausal has done for me personally
My position is that “irrational” beliefs are only a problem when they lead to these sorts of issues just described. Contrarily, “talking to demons” produced the following positives in my own case:
- Encouraged introspection and personal growth
- Forced confrontation with unpleasant truths
- Inspired long-term ambitions aimed at changing the World for the better
- Fostered more expansive compassion for all sentient beings
- Annihilated long-standing fears that had seemed otherwise insurmountable
Should one reject such gains as these just because the manner in which I attained them was “irrational”? Personally, I fail to see anything constructive in such a move.
Selective embrace of “dark paganism”
A final thing I’ll address is why I subscribe to some occult practices while dismissing others.
Traits of positive and effective spiritual praxis
It is my conviction that all actually-valuable spiritual practices have the following features:
- At their center is the unique experience of the individual – not the imposition of an external authority
- Acausal effects aside, they yield causal effects in the form of greater self-awareness and self-insight
- They admit openly to their acausal aspects, rather than disguising them with pseudoscience
Some things that follow, regarding “dark pagan” stuff that I do or don’t do, include:
- I reject any occult practice that invokes “fate,” and thereby downplays individual agency. Astrology and palmistry are both examples of this. If someone else is able to use them in a self-empowering way, great. I dislike them, however, because to me, the notion of future matters “already written” suggests complacency and/or fatalism.
- Though I reject the sort of divination I just described, I believe that the proper use of methods such as tarot or runes can generate useful self-insight. They “work” as acausal channels because they first of all “work” causally, as a means of exploring one’s intuitions, biases and etc. They are valuable, however, only inasmuch as one is trained to use them for self-reflection, not as methods of “knowing the future” per se.
- It’s plausible that, inasmuch as there’s an element of psychology common to all humans, many people may find that the same objects (e.g. a crystal) evoke the same associations (e.g. acausal receptivity). Nonetheless, this kind of thing strikes me as more individual and in need of experimentation than many people admit. I’m thus more skeptical than many “spiritual” people about supposed “inherent” properties of specific crystals, herbs, scents, or etc.
- Re: astrological considerations, I do find that Moon phases “matter” to ritual, along lines not unlike those found in traditional witchcraft. The effect, however, is pretty subtle vs. other factors (e.g. confidence, fatigue, etc.), and I don’t personally find that any other considerations of planets or stars affect much at all. If other people find it affects their rituals, I respect that. But since that hasn’t been my experience, it’s not something I’ve incorporated into Tenebrous Satanism.
Furthermore, in light of the traits of positive and effective spiritual praxis I just enumerated, here are some more general things that I seek to avoid:
- I do not wish to present myself as some sort of “guru.” Hopefully, my experience will be useful to other occultists. However, I do not wish to present said experience as somehow “authoritative.”
- I reject the notion that effective occult praxis requires following strict formulae. Certainly, I do think it is valuable for beginners to have a “template” to work from. But in my work, I frequently emphasize that practitioners should feel free to experiment, to change parts of rituals that don’t work for them personally, etc.
- Although Tenebrous Satanism’s take on evolution is partly inspired by my reading of certain scientific findings, I do not claim that my religion is more valid than others due to being “more scientific.” My take is, if the acausal realm calls to you, and you find interaction with it fulfilling, then that is the best and only real reason to “go for it.” There is no need to justify your occultism to the Herd, by belaboring the “facts” about what “studies show,” or cooking up half-baked interpretations of quantum physics, chaos theory, etc. that allow magick to “work.” Just do it, and do not apologize to anyone for it.
I’m curious to hear what those reading this think about how to draw the science vs. magick line – especially if you are, yourself, an occultist.
- Do you find, like I do, that some occult practices make sense to you, vs. others seem implausible, hokey, etc.? What do you figure triggers you to draw the line where you do?
- To what extent do you find spirituality positively correlates with open-mindedness, vs. negatively manifests as credulity, embrace of pseudoscience, etc.?
- Are there forms of science denial that you agree cause society more trouble than the mere existence of occultists? What concerns you most?
Let me know what you think in the comments.