Avoiding Self Deception in Magic

In mid-1950s, the automatic writing practitioner Dorothy Martin, aka Sister Thedra, received a communication from an entity calling itself Sananda – the “galactic name” of Jesus in the Ascended Master Teachings. After conveying spiritual teachings to Martin and her esoteric group, the Seekers, Sananda “revealed” that a global cataclysm would destroy the Earth in 1954. The enlightened Seekers, would, however, be rescued by a flying saucer and taken to Ananda’s planet.

Many Seekers quit their jobs, gave away their possessions, and waited for a flying saucer that never came to rescue them from a cataclysm that never happened.

This true story was described in the pioneering social psychology work When Prophecy Fails, by Leon FestingerHenry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter, published in 1956. I re-read this book often and take it as a warning. Like Dorothy Martin, we, as practicing magicians, receive signs and communications from beyond the ordinary. One of our challenges is not falling prey to self-deception.

Why are we in danger of self-deception? It’s tempting to interpret any extraordinary experience as evidence of success at magic. Our subconsciousness reflects back what we give it – the principle that Robert Anton Wilson summarised as “what the thinker thinks, the prover proves.” If we read about Egyptian and Indian deities, our subconsciousness will dress our experiences with these symbols.

Add to this that the astral-mental regions are full of elementals and larvae that can pose as helpful guides to feed off our astral matrix. It is conceivable that the entity moving Dorothy Martin’s pen was one such mischievous elemental.

This deceptive allure is sometimes called “glamour.” Certain authors, like theosophist Alice Bailey, pay much attention to keeping safe of glamour in their writings.

One tactic for dealing with glamour is disregarding all unusual phenomena. In certain teaching orders, the prevalent practice is to invalidate any experience a student might have as “illusion,” “Maya,” “distraction” or some such. This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. If we wish to study magic, we must study the effects of magic.

So let’s look at some practical ways in which we can address such phenomena. I would recommend, first of all, detached journaling of such phenomena. Then, their analysis with respect of whether they flatter and whether they impose themselves. The soul mirrors are an invaluable tools for their examination, and a good magic hygiene a way to prevent them. Let’s examine each in turn.

Detached journaling means writing down exactly what happened, without judging its nature. For example, were I to have an experience of a certain famous Egyptian deity, I might write it down as “I had a vision of a figure that brought to mind Anubis,” rather than “I was visited by Anubis” or “I hallucinated Anubis.”

In other words, you acknowledge that something happened. If it turns out to be a deception, your journal will contain a warning of this pitfall. If it proves itself to be a true and valuable message, it will have been preserved in the journal. Overall, such recorded experiences, like puzzle pieces, will begin fitting together and forming a clearer picture.

The regular use of the soul mirrors – the inventories of our negative and positive traits – inform us how our work and experiences are manifesting in our daily life. If we are getting worse off, these experiences are not leading us in the right direction.

A pitfall here is rationalisation. One could say, for example, that getting angrier and more violent is “purification,” that one argues too much on the internet because “truth is urgently needed,” and that losing one’s job and family are an insight into “where true priorities lie.” Perhaps that’s why students of Franz Bardon create their soul mirrors at the very beginning. Soul mirrors tell us where we stand in relation to the sephirah of Malkuth, in relation to our mastery of our mundane lives, the expression of our talents, the fulfilment of our duties, the practice of our values. The mastery of Malkuth grounds us. As we progress on the path and things get shifty and strange, we need to trust our soul mirrors.

One of my favourite esoteric authors, Paul Foster Case, wrote that the true Voice will never flatter and never command. I understand flattery to mean anything that arouses self-importance, such as suggesting that a person is exceptionally talented, successful, and chosen for a special mission or favour. Flattery may come in form of a messiah complex: a notion that the individual has been chosen to save others. Or, conversely, it may come as a belief that we will be spared something that “ordinary” people are due.

In the context of magic, commandments and flattery are ways to manipulate a person to go beyond what they understand, wish, and are ready to do, leaving them out of their depth and at the mercy of the manipulating entity – not unlike what ordinary con-artists do. The antidote is being honest to ourselves about our limits, and not abandoning them recklessly out of fear or temptation.

Magical hygiene is a huge subject that deserves multiple books. I touched upon it in my previous guest post, when I wrote about the consumption of information.

Magical hygiene involves, above all, the choice of food, impressions and air we give to our body, soul and mind. This includes not having the fabled “lust for results.” If we can’t accept failure, we will end up deceiving ourselves, finding excuses, finding alternative evidence, and not learning from it.

Magical hygiene also includes control over energy we emit and receive. In Franz Bardon’s system, magical washing is the most straightforward way of removing residual and waste energy. Other options may include prayer, meditation, hatha yoga, inner martial arts and banishing rituals.

In this day and age, a healthy, balanced and harmonious lifestyle may seem like a utopia, but this is the ultimate goal, and we can move towards it inch by inch.

Let’s go back to the story of Dorothy Martin and see how it compares to these suggestions. First, Martin didn’t practice detached journaling, but took every transmission from “Sananda” at face value. She allowed “Sananda” to flatter her as a chosen “channel” of teachings beyond her level of spiritual maturity, and command her to prepare for the rapture on the threat of cataclysm. The Seekers as a group didn’t take their deteriorating familial, social and professional relationships as a warning that something was amiss. Finally, the group was open to any and all influences to the point of exhaustion, rather than consuming information mindfully and cultivating balance.

Developing resilience to glamour is a prerequisite to a sustainable and productive magic practice, and I hope that these musings will at least serve as a reminder of this, just as When Prophecy Fails serves as a reminder to me when I get a bit carried away.

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