Thoughts, lessons, and theology from an eclectic witch from a varied background.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Question Time: What is the difference between hard and soft polytheism?

New feature here on The Veiled Witch: Question Time! You guys give me a question and on the last Tuesday of the month, I will do my best to answer it. This week's question comes from Kelly J.! She says:

I'd be especially interested in hearing about the differences between hard and soft polytheism.

I would like to first reference the great oracle known as Wikipedia. We find the term polytheism comes from Greek and originates in the term invented by the Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria polytheoi - literally: many gods. Philo of Alexandria coined the term in the midst of arguing with the Greeks over religion. He had felt that the polytheists were practicing a false religion (thus the term for a while has been colloquially considered synonymous with idol worshipers). 

The term dropped out of usage until it was revived in the 16th century. It still had many of the same implied connotations given that Europe was predominantly monotheistic at the time. Modern usage has been the subject of debate in some circles because anthropologists and sociologists are having a bit of difficulty determining if the major branches of modern pagan belief are true polytheism or some form of pantheism. Wikipedia does a far better job of summing up that debate then I can at the moment.

Hard polytheism views the gods as distinct entities.They have unique traits and are individual personalities. Within the community of people who are hard polytheists, there are folks who will reject the gods of other pantheons as being false. 

Soft polytheism does not have as rigid dividing lines between deities. In many ways, the gods are viewed as aspects of a more general deity/supreme being. The most notable of pagan faiths that practices soft polytheism is classical British Wicca.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Magical Studies: The Psychology of Magic

There is another component to why magic works. This is the component that is frequently upheld as the primary modus operendi of what is the functional working bits of magic. It is also what skeptics and others point to and use to declare that all of magical study is nothing more then psychological manipulation of the gullible. This argument, however, is ignoring the other (previously discussed) elements of magical study.

The major component to how magical efforts work upon the psyche is hypnosis. Generally, it is some form of self-hypnosis. The induction of trance has many different methods, which will be discussed in greater detail in their own post, and the goal is to enter into an altered psychological state which renders one's waking self more pliant to suggestion. Once in this altered state, one is able to implant commands for oneself to execute in a given setting, access intuitive spiritual knowledge, or focus their thoughts intently upon a magical goal.

The most common use of the hypnotic state in magical studies is the third focus. In solitary witchcraft, the process is quite similar to implantation of commands. When one is engaged in practicing witchcraft with a coven, the person who is leading the ritual (in most Wiccan covens, this is the High Priestess or High Priest) pays close attention to the spiritual energy level of the group and their depth of trance. When all has arrived at the correct intensity and depth, the person leading the spell gives a signal for the coven members to direct their spiritual energy and thoughts towards their goal.

A large amount of magical study has been focused upon how one becomes more integrated in their personality, heal psychological wounds, and to bring about a general sense of health and well being in one's life. It is highly advisable for one who is engaged in this sort of magical undertaking to acquire a basic knowledge of psychology. It is also exceptionally important for one to be brutally honest with themselves. Self deception serve to undermine one's magical efforts and will either result in no progress made or harmful developments.

Some witches find that practicing alone is easiest and provides the most efficient way to address questions of one's psychological well being. It is rare to find one who engages in such work and does so with out any external supports. These supports can come from not only the witchcraft community (as happens with most coven work) but also from professionals in the health community, well meaning associates, and a great deal of research into one's own psychological state. To be trite, knowledge is power.

The power that comes from the basic knowledge of psychology is the ability to use trance more effectively, circumvent self deception, and to have a working understanding of how the mind operates. This can lead to more effective self-regulation of mood and mental state. It can also lead to improved communication with others. If one finds themselves in the position of providing spiritual or emotional assistance to another, this not only helps to make one more effective at doing so, it also makes it easier for one to determine when the situation is beyond their expertise.

The secondary psychological component that is behind successful magic is accurate assessment of one's psychological strengths and weaknesses. This type of self knowledge enables one to tailor their spell craft to work with their unique personality. Spell craft that is designed to take into account the strengths and weaknesses of the spell caster is far more effective then something that is crafted for any general user. (This is why personalized spells are preferred as a general rule.) It is the equivalent of having a tool that is designed to fit your hand versus one that is just off the shelf for any person to use. It enhances the effectiveness of the tool and make the tool more comfortable to use.

The third element to be considered is the suspension of disbelief. In our daily lives, we are regularly encouraged to focus upon what is only perceivable by the classical 5 senses (sight, taste, touch, sound, and hearing). To have any sort of publicly espoused belief in some alternate senses is to find oneself in a most uncomfortable position scrutiny and scorn. As such, disbelief in any possible psychic talent that one may have become habitual and a self-fulfilling prophecy in extreme cases. In the case of people who have latent psychic talent, the continual message that they are living in a fantasy, mad, or acting childish is detrimental to their health and well being. Indeed, such things can be enough to render said psychic person blind to their own talents.

The suspension of disbelief in things ranging from ones' psychic talents to spiritual beings (ie fairies, dragons, or angels) gives one permission to use these abilities and to access their spiritual nature. This, in turn, helps one to align their thoughts and will into greater focus upon their goal. Thus, proving to have a higher magical success rate.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Magical Studies: The Physics of Magic II

We must take a moment to step aside from discussing magic to take a look at physics. This is a branch of 'hard*' science that is devoted to the study of matter and its movement through space and time. This also includes related concepts of energy and force. Physics can be described as having three major divisions. These are:
  1. Molecular and subatomic physics (also known as the physics of the very small)
  2. Newtonian physics (the physics of 'normal sized stuff')
  3. Astronomical and cosmological physics (also known as the physics of the very large)
The division of physics that we are most familiar with is that of Newtonian physics. This is the study of things like what happens when you drop an apple. It is what we use to do everything from drive a car to eating food. While the world can be described with a great deal of mathematics in this branch of physics, it is very easy to demonstrate the principles observed. A great example is the law of motion that relates that objects at rest will remain at rest until an outside force acts upon them. We intuitively understand that a box sitting on the floor will not move unless you push it.

The branch of physics that is most frequently is the news is the astronomical branch (and by extension cosmological). When you read a news story talking about black holes being discovered, discoveries on the mars missions, or about comets, you are reading about this branch of physics. Astronomy is a dramatic field filled with a great many stunning wonders. A quick review of the photos taken with the Hubble Telescope shows a breathtaking sampling of a tiny part of what is up in the night sky.

Stories about how stars die and are born are often accompanied by vivid artistic renderings. It is something beautiful but confusing to many people. Often, folks are quite contented to look at the pretty pictures and know that something amazing is going on out in space that we can study. It is in many ways a feel good science for the armchair scientists. Astronomy has a reputation for attracting highly intelligent people and having even a smattering of that knowledge is viewed by many to lend you some of that luster.

Molecular and subatomic physics is a baffling thing to most people. It is hard to envision how these tiny particles make up all that we see, let alone how they interact with each other. Most people can quite easily accept that when you press your hand against the wall it is a solid object. Tell them that the apparent solidness of the wall is but an illusion constructed by intricate subatomic forces and you are either given a look of confusion or they will laugh at the premise. It is, however, these subtle and intricate forces that govern how magic operates.

While I can go into greater detail as to the mechanics of this activity, I believe a simple explanation may serve our purposes best. (If one has questions, please reply via comments and I will do my best to answer them or direct you to a source of good information.) The human brain has a vast amount of electrical activity that happens with in it at all times. These electro-chemical impulses are what forms our thoughts. It is our thoughts, when organized and focused, that begin the chain reaction of changing reality as per the function of magic.

By suitably focusing one's mind and aligning it with their will, it is possible to create a sufficient directed influence of the electrical impulses of the brain to affect a tiny change in the world about them. This change happens upon the subatomic level. It is a very subtle change but it will move to create other subtle changes until it finds it's way back to the practitioner who set this chain of action into motion. The success of a spell is determined by how well one has aligned their thoughts.

One must also recognize that magic does not manifest as we precisely envision it. The chaotic path that it takes through the universe before it returns to us changes the energy subtly. As such, a spell to bring one additional money may result in one buying the winning lotto ticket, but it far more likely that it comes by way of getting overtime at work, finding a lost $20 bill in the couch, or discovering that your bills for the month are less then they usually are.

Many people get hung up on trying to force the results of their magic to manifest in one specific way. They, to use our earlier example, want to be the one with that winning lotto ticket. This, however, is attempting to force magic to move upon a specific path. There may be forces at play in the universe that run contrary to that path of manifestation. As such, manifestation will not happen because the energy is blocked into that proverbial channel that has been carved through the flux of the universe. It is far better to focus upon a general result then a specific because you get a higher rate of return in this fashion.

When one is employing magic for a specific purpose, it is necessary to maintain the mental focus of the initial spell craft until the time of manifestation. This gives the energy the additional push it needs to carve out a specific channel towards that manifestation. In many ways, it is pitting your will against the nature of the universe. This is an exhausting thing, but it can be done. It comes, however, at a higher price in the way of mental effort. Here, it is helpful to gain the assistance of others (such as a witches' coven) to put greater energy behind the 'push' for that goal. This requires great coordination and focus by all parties.

* Hard versus soft science is a distinction between the branches of science based in how rigid the methodology used and (by some) as a distinction of legitimacy.