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Poetry and Policy: Magic, miracles and image-building

Transformative Approaches Project

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Such are the dimensions of the crises faced by humanity and the planet that it is not uncommon to hear that "a miracle is required". Indeed, faced with the demonstrated incompetence and impotence of political leaders and their academic advisors, miracles seem just as likely to offer a way forward as conventional policy-making. At the same time, occasionally people experience gatherings which seem to offer hope because of the "magical" way they work --without it being possible to identify how this happened. As a result some would say that "we need more magic".

Magic of course has a very bad press. Worse than that of poetry. Both are aspects of culture which the sciences have done their best to marginalize and ridicule -- and religion before them. Ironically, given the subtitle of this paper, even the Walt Disney movie Beauty and the Beast has been labelled dangerously evil by Christian fundamentalists -- together with fantasy games such as Dungeons and Dragons (Christian Broadcasting Network, 1993).

But the sciences and religions are now on the defensive. They have proven incapable of responding to the problems that they have helped to engender. In a sense they have provided a wealth of new tools to build a better house, but are incapable of using those tools to construct a house that it is a delight to live in. The qualitative keystone is lacking. Soulless "utility" dwellings and architectural monstrosities best describe the capacity of the sciences in metaphorical terms. And how are religions contributing to our current problems and our capacity to survive them?

1. Magic as an interface between poetry and policy-making

Poetry of course has a long association with "magic". The best poetry is "magical" in its effects. Kenneth Slessor states: "Poetry is the result not of reason, not of intellect. It is the flow of magic." But what of the discipline of magic whose deep influence on the poet Yeats has been so frequently studied? Science and medicine have finally had to admit that there was some merit in traditional techniques and remedies (acupuncture, herbs, etc). Is it possible that there are truths buried in the clutter and superstition surrounding magic? Is it possible that these truths might provide clues to the interface between the "effects" of poetry and the "effects" of policy-making? From a cognitive perspective, of greatest significance is the declared purpose of magic to manipulate images and understanding. This is clearly a concern of poetry. But in doing so magic also aims to "effect" some kind of transformation.

2. Image-building, policy-making and science

Effecting a "transformation" is clearly a central concern of policy-making -- itself increasingly dependent on moulding the image of that policy in the media and even of creating a policy which has an appropriate image. Ironically policy-making has become heavily image-dependent -- just like poetry. Image-building, as practised by public relations, could be considered as a "sanitized" version of magic. Guided fantasy, a technique increasingly used in organizational development, is another variant.

The sciences are also increasingly sensitive to their neglect of the role of images in understanding the evolution of knowledge and communication (Holton, 1978; Miller, 1986; Barlow, 1990; Pickover, 1991). The importance of "creativity" in research laboratories that have to make a profit has tended to brushed aside any persisting doubts concerning the importance to such insight of a subjective process such as "imagination".

3. How is magic to be understood?

Magic, according to both scholars such as Daniel O'Keefe (1982) and practitioners such as R J Stewart (1987, 1988), is a set of methods for arranging awareness according to patterns; it is not a truth or a religion. Nor is it even a philosophy, in the strict sense of the word, although there are echoes of profound philosophy in most magical traditions. It is basically an artistic science in which the practitioner controls and develops imagination to cause changes in the outer world. The serious application of magical methods leads to transformation and it is the transformation which is of value and not the methods themselves. All magic derives from controlled work with the imagination.

In a major study by sociologist Daniel O'Keefe (1982) he explores 12 postulates concerning magic of which the first four indicate dimensions relevant to poetry-making and policy-making: Magic is a form of social action; Magic social action consists of symbolic performances -- and linguistic symbolism is central to magic; Magic symbolic action is rigidly scripted; Magic scripts achieve their social effects largely by pre-existing or prefigured agreements.

Magic (like advertising and poetry) does not "work" because its propositions are essentially real or true; it works because practitioners become imaginatively involved in these propositions. Thus for controlled periods of time under non-habitual circumstances, they behave as if they were true. It is not a question of becoming habituated to falsehood but rather of the magician growing through the patterns, whether true or not, and emerging beyond them into a clarity of awareness that was not possible before the experience of transition and transformation.

4. Sharing metaphors towards transformation

From the perspective of a magician, the propensity of people for engaging daily in activities which they know are fruitless or harmful, sustained by a pattern of values and habits, achieves its apparent coherence through a form of fantasy-sharing that holds the illusion together collectively and individually. This same propensity is used by magic to motivate inner transformation rather than outer identifications. When the awareness of values changes (in contrast to changes of values) the externally perceived world may be transformed by magical means.

This possibility is facilitated when the symbols used are those of the culture with which the practitioners are familiar. Once the perception of the external world can be transformed by such means, magic then enables changes within the individual through which further methods applicable to the transformed consciousness may be inwardly apprehended. Magic thus attempts to relate human consciousness to divine consciousness through patterns inherent in each. This is known as the Great Work.

5. Worldviews and transformations

A major premise of magic is that access may be obtained to many worlds or worldviews. The transformations which occur within the magician enable access to such innerworlds of consciousness in ways which transcend the limitations of purely intellectual endeavour or the inspirations of folklore. Images are deliberately evoked and cultivated as part of this process:

Initially magic alters the focus or area of attention, drawing the vital; energies together with the discipline of a tradition and its restricting vessel or matrix.

In a second stage the energies are redirected and gradually amplified through attuning to richer, more complex and more encompassing patterns. These integrative patterns have a resonant effect on the psyche. They may take the form of simple symbols, or may be imaginatively recreated as complex scenes, beings or patterns. They may be used to focus and direct a wide spectrum of personal and group energies on many levels of awareness.

In a third stage, the awareness having been attuned to various patterns normally inaccessible to everyday consciousness, begins to operate in other worlds or dimensions through the effect of the magical patterns and key symbols.

Finally the practitioner is projected into the alternative worlds of experience, often with considerable energy.

The increasing ability to change worldviews follows from a reassembly and redirection of the practitioner's energies. Such changes enable the practitioner to gain a more accurate understanding of the shared world. The value of such transitions to other world realities is that they contribute to the overall liberation from the particular illusion of the coagulated consensual worldview. They also ensure fruitful exchanges between such distinct realities and the entities that inhabit them.

The intent is therefore not to escape this world but rather to transform it. The transformation begins within new directions ofawareness sought in early training. It finally permeates the practitioner through to the physical body. Whereas religions seek to save the world, the magical disciplines affirm a subtle aspect of this insight, namely the possibility of transforming all worlds.

6. Magical arts

There are five fundamental magical arts: concentration, meditation, visualization, ritual pattern making, mediation. Although each of these disciplines of consciousness may be developed separately from the others, they are in fact harmoniously interwoven in any well balanced magical work. These all lead consciousness to change its direction, moving inwards rather than fixating outwards as it does in daily habitual life.

Through the practice of these arts during magical development, the individual progressively learns to balance the reality-worlds within individual consciousness through ritual and planned activity by which life becomes attuned and rhythmic rather than random and chaotic. At the same time the individual endeavours to energize the imaginative constructs and the contacts established through transformative rituals and powerful mediation. The spiritual power of the practitioner is directed outwards towards material ends, flowing through the psychic body complex, transforming the awareness of the practitioner before it reaches any other defined goal. These two processes may be integrated in one harmonious living pattern, a magical life of enlightenment, in which the practitioner seeks a continual interaction between the individual and the worlds occupied by his awareness.

Magic makes extensive use of the body as a set of metaphors to which the individual has ready access. This is not irrelevant to policy-making as classic Taoist guides to governance of a society indicate (Cleary, 1990). The eminent social scientist and author of "Image" (1961), Kenneth Boulding (1978) teasingly remarks: "Our consciousness of the unity of self in the middle of a vast complexity of images or material structures is at least a suitable metaphor for the unity of a group, organization, department, discipline, or science. If personification is only a metaphor, let us not despise metaphors --we might be one ourselves." (p. 345).

7. Spell-casting

Charismatic leaders have been studied as "spellbinders" by A R Willner (1984). Like it or not, spells as an aspect of magic seem to be closely associated with this overlap between poetry and policy. Concern is expressed at continuing popular interest in spells and the related persistent practices in many countries. But commercial advertising may be seen as using many of the techniques previously confined to spell-casting. There is a lot of "magic" in public relations and in what the "spin doctors" of political campaigns endeavour to achieve (Maltese, 1992).

Janet and Stewart Farrar (1990) indicate: "A spell can be as simple or as complicated as the occasion demands. But be it simple or complex, three factors are essential: precise visualization of intent, concentration and will-power" (p. 31). Many of the spells and incantations to which they refer take poetic form, including two embodied in the Kalevala, the Finnish national epic. Many are of course designed to "solve problems".

8. Guided visualization

As one of the five basic arts of magic, visualization is used to contact and develop subtler levels of consciousness. This discipline should be distinguished from recent initiatives in mental therapy to use relaxing guided fantasies in some forms of therapy. For more challenging experiences, several conditions should be fulfilled: the symbolism needs to be coherent and related to a specific tradition; no attempt should be made to complete the visualization or render it all-inclusive since this inhibits imaginative participation; the sequence of symbols should include challenging and even disturbing phases, and not be simply supportive and comforting; opportunities should be made for silent meditation to explore any insights that are triggered by the sequence; traditional symbols are more effective than those from popular culture; the visualization should bear some structural relationship to magical pattern-making. Visualizations should be characterized by intellectual, psychological, topological and cosmological clarity through which related realms of consciousness merge, dissolve and re-emerge in a master pattern. A complex visualization moves through several levels of consciousness or magical worlds.

9. Ritual pattern-making

A ritual of any kind sets up specific conditions (or a specific context) in both the operator and the "real" world as it is intended that it should be perceived. The main function of ritual in the magical tradition is to set up some particular state of emotion or awareness. Pattern-making through ritual is one of the five magical arts. The pattern acts as a matrix for energies arising within the consciousness of participants. Under specific conditions it can involve the bio-electrical energies of the body and psyche. The consciousness which merges with and consists of such energies is both individual and collective. It is expressed as a sequence of integrative insights shared by the group within its imagination. One interpretation is that traditional rituals of speech, movements, consecration conjure spirits and thereby bring about beneficial magical results - exorcism, healing, knowledge, prosperity.

Contrary to a widespread assumption, powerful rituals may be quite simple in form and language, even though they have complex effects and relationships upon awareness. Mystique, romanticism and pseudo-learning are unnecessary, especially when deliberately designed to obscure and impress in lengthy, repetitive rituals. But curious words, chants, vocal tones and other verbal symbols may be used when these have significance for all participants. Magical operations generally employ a combination of expressed modes of communication: words, music, dance, formal movement, scents, colours, sounds, objective symbols and implements. These are only of value when complementary, enhancing a pattern which captures the imagination. Hours of complex ritual may often be more effectively replaced by a simple ceremony or a basic meditation.

10. Magical perversions

Advertising "magic" can be misused as can the skills of the political "spin doctors" (Maltese, 1992) and the expertise in disinformation and negative image-building.

The term magic is frequently abused and separated from a spiritual foundation. In any historical period, as with religion, magical arts are taken up in fashionable and often bizarre forms, by various groups and movements, as continues to occur at this time. The enduring magical tradition is derived from perennial philosophy, sustained by myth, legend, visionary cosmology and poetic insight. In some cultures many perverted forms of magic continue to be practised for ignorant or selfish ends. Trivial, resource-consuming, or ultimately sinister practices are degraded forms of the enduring tradition that can lead to dangerous forms of imbalance.

In early magical training there is an extended period of confusion in which personal weaknesses and problems (especially self-inflation), become highly amplified before they are destroyed and the energies in question are absorbed into a balanced inner pattern. Magic is frequently associated with the occult as the preoccupation of secret cults in pursuit of secret powers in order to manipulate others. As with other disciplines, it can attract self-centred individuals of extremely dubious motivation. Through their efforts to draw attention to themselves, wider understanding of magic as a discipline is distorted. The potent powers to which magic offers access are the common energies and properties of humankind and are not the monopoly of any conspiracies that may endeavour to exploit them.

Magic has frequently been considered evil, especially by organized religion and as a result of the actions of those who exploit the gullible. As a neutral set of artistic and scientific techniques for controlling the imagination, magic (as with any set of methods), may indeed be employed by those who are imbalanced to enhance their own image of themselves. Evil may then be considered as associated with that imbalance, but not with the principles, however they are abused. Many modern religions, especially Christianity, make use of magical practices identical in principle to those of the pagan religions they displaced. Such religions also exhibit special concern at the evocation of gods and goddesses as being a completely regressive spiritual tendency. However this reservation should now be seen in the light of the insights of archetypal psychology in which the imaginative value of such symbols for the psyche is recognized as one way of facilitating individuation. Just as some religions make specific use of icons and other images as an aid to prayer, magical traditions use specific images of deities to gain specific results with the imagination and its effects upon the outer world.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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