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22 April 2006 @ 11:29 am
Quotes: Arthur Versluis, The Philosophy of Magic  
Last night I picked my copy of Arthur Versluis' The Philosophy of Magic (Boston: 1986) off of the shelf. I needed some variety, having burnt out on my current research material. I picked this book up on the cheapo used rack at Green Apple Books in San Francisco a few years ago, and, though I remember being excited about it after thumbing through it, it's been one of those books that got shuffled aside amidst other piles.

I remember why I was so excited about it now. I stayed up a good six hours past bedtime: reading, highlighting, checking against my notebooks. Sucked me right in.

Versluis essentially covers much of the same ground that I wish to: From the foundation of a three-realms model (Physical/Subtle/Causal) and its relationship to Form (Eidos) and Mind (Nous). He sees magick as being a subtle-realm art that serves as a bridge of understanding between the Physical to the Causal, and begins with an examination of the currents of spiritual involution (manifestation/immanentization of Form from Mind) and spiritual evolution (transcendence of Form back into Mind). He also makes an examination of various magickal psychocosms within the western Hermetic tradition while also giving enough context to link them to psychocosms within other spiritual systems of realization. He sees magick not as an end in and of itself, but as one part of an ongoing spiritual evolution encountered by anyone on that path whether as "magick or miracles." As he says in the preface, "In this study we approach magic and alchemy in their highest manifestations as byproducts or aspects of spiritual discipline."

It's very exciting to read a book about magick at a spiritual level rather than a procedural or physical-results-oriented form. He focuses on the high-level "behind the scenes" aspects of what magick is and does, where it fits into other traditions and how they enhance each other as a whole, and how it can be used as a tool for spiritual realization.

This morning I was reading more and found myself completely blown away when, in half a paragraph, he hits all the main points (Perrenial States & Three Realms, Spiritual Involution, Spiritual Evolution) that I plan to expound in my first two chapters on States and Currents. He begins his first chapter with an examination of the Poimandres within the Corpus Hermeticum, after which he writes:

"In this first section of the Corpus Hermeticum, then, we have a remarkably condensed version of the traditional three-world cosmology which is to be found in Neoplatonic teachings, in Gnostic Christian writings, in Qabalistic Judaism, in Islamic Sufism, in Taoism and in esoteric Buddhism, varying with each tradition. There is the realm of the Ideal [Causal], the celestials, the realm of the planets [Subtle], and the realm of samsara [Physical], of birth and death. The soul descends through these [Spiritual Involution] and then, when it is properly matured, disciplined, and enlightened, it 'ascends' [Spiritual Evolution] towards mind again, that which is beyond conception." --pp. 12

It's quite dense with quotable material. Further quotes:

Quotes from the Introduction

"A situation has arisen in which magic and alchemy are regarded as disciplines in themselves, rather than being manifestations one encounters while traveling along a traditional religious Path." --pp. 1

"Although there are a welter of books available on the history and external ritual, the lore and superficial aspects of magic and alchemy, whether sympathetic or hostile, mocking or serious, virtually all leave one dissatisfied; in reading them one knows that there was, clearly, something most essential behind the quests of the alchemists and the rituals of the magi. But what?" --pp. 2

"It is only when such [worldly] pursuit is abandoned in favor of the traditional spiritual path that the true magic... is revealed in the transmutation of the self." --pp. 2

"A common modern assumption has been that magic and alchemy were at best merely haphazard collections of superstition compiled by people ignorant of the rational, physical laws, when in fact magic and alchemy are based upon suprarational laws and principles of which modern man is in general unaware. In short, the abyss between modern beliefs and the vision of traditional cultures arose not because of the supposed ignorance of the latter -- which were in truth not nearly so concerned with the workings of the physical world as in theirs, and our, celestial Origin -- but rather this abyss results in large part from the general eclipse of Pythagorean, Hermetic, and Neoplatonic understanding of the cosmos, in which Western magic arose and was transmitted." --pp. 3

"And hence the modern, flat view of the world as an external mass of matter evolved from chaos, with all its destructive consequences, arose when the magical vision of Bruno and Dee, of Lull and Fludd was suppressed in favor of the logical, categorical Aristotelianism of succeeding generations." --pp. 4

"One... misconception is that magic implies belief. Of course, in a sense it must, since without faith in the efficacy of something one would not undertake it, but at the same time it is absurd to think that the remarkable similarities among all traditional cultures rose by chance, and that magic and alchemy continued within them on the basis of mere belief..." --pp. 5-6

"The magus [stands] between the purely 'religious' realm of the sage or saint and the culture and world as a whole." --pp. 7

"Contrary to the contentions of psychologists like Jung, Eastern wisdom and magic cannot be 'taken out of metaphysics and placed in psychological experience,' for the essence of all traditional religion and magic lies in the apprehension of that which is beyond and above the merely physical or psychological. To drag metaphysics into the realm of the ego and the physical is to rob it of all power and value, forcing it in effect to affirm that which it must deny: the ultimate existence of the illusory ego." --pp. 7-8; contained quote is from R. Wilhelm & C.G. Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower, New York, 1931.

More quotes to be added here as I further highlight my copy of the book.
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Werekatwerekat on April 22nd, 2006 07:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you for giving me a good title to work with - I'll find it for certain: this is one title I have a feeling I'll be needing greatly for my own work. It sounds great, and I am glad you've got a copy and a use for it!
Brianbrian33 on April 23rd, 2006 11:25 am (UTC)
Sounds like good stuff.
Nick_crow365__ on May 19th, 2006 02:52 am (UTC)
Just got done reading this (found it on Amazon for about $2.00, which was an awesome deal, in my opinion). In short, I have to agree that it is an amazing book, and I definitely felt echoes of Wilberian philosophy (which is odd, since, for as much as I know, Wilber didn't start speaking about the physical, subtle, and causal, etc., until long after this was published) throughout the whole thing. The only problem I had was his whole bleak outlook on the modern day as, basically, a cycling down until the birth of the next Golden Age. But, this will definitely go in the "Must Re-Read Several Times" pile of books, so I must thank you for the recommendation.
Fenwick Kaidevis Rysenkaidevis on May 20th, 2006 03:46 pm (UTC)
Most welcome; I'm glad you enjoyed it. I'm entirely with you on his attitude towards the modern day, but if it means he's done such in-depth research on rennaisance alchemy both east and west, I'm happy to give him his biases.

Wilber definitely got into the three-realm cosmology after this was published, though given his biases I doubt this ever crossed his path. Which is too bad; his anti-magic bias just doesn't jive with the idea of having any sort of control over the subtle/mediate realm. But Wilber's a mystic, not a magician. It's nice to see a treatment of the topic by someone who's the latter.

It looks like I'll finish with my copy this week, and I'll be posting all sorts of additional quotes from my mark-up -- just in case you want to steal them for yourself.