Magic, Miracles and Image-building
Poetry-making and Policy-making
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Part M of Poetry-making and Policy-making: Arranging a Marriage between Beauty and the Beast (1993)
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
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 apparent 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
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
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
- 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 of awareness 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).
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
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
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 apparent effects upon the outer world.