Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Modern versus Traditional Magical Symbols
I had a recent post on my discussion group which began, ""Treat all symbolism that you do not understand as gibberish." The post then went on to opine that since moderns have cars they were obviously in all ways superior to the past when they only had horses.
I really could not have expressed the modern world view any better, and thus I really appreciated! The absolute faith in Progress and dismissal of the past is exactly in line with modern beliefs. In particular the idea that an increase in technological sophistication means that moderns are in all ways superior to past is also very characteristic.
It is also certainly characteristic of modern esotericism to insist that the conscious understanding of the mage is the key to magic. This is not simply a modern view, however, as the ancient philosopher Porphyry expresses it and is answered by the traditional theurgist Iamblichos in his "On the Mysteries."
Porphyry accuses theurgists of using meaningless names in their ritual. Iamblichos says that these names are not meaningless to the Gods because they are unknown to us.
"It is necessary to remove all conceptions and logical deductions from divine names...rather it is the symbolic character of divine resemblance, intellectual and divine that must be accepted in the case of divine names...even if it is unknowable to us, this very thing is its most venerable aspect" On the Mysteries, cited in
Gregory Shaw, "Theurgy and the Soul: the Neoplatonism of Iamblichos" at 179,
Shaw goes on to say, "If divine names, like other names, were conceptually knowable they would possess the same properties as human thoughts; Porphyry's interest in their "meaning" therefore, was characteristically anthropocentric and misguided...for Iamblichos, however, their ineffability was their "most venerable" aspect because it awakened the ineffable presence of the divine in the soul. Thinking, by itself, could not achieve this."
Shaw at 180.
Ultimately the traditional view was that we are the product of the forces and being external to the ego self, that while we are microcosms (little universes) that replicate the Macrocosm (the universe) there are "higher powers".
When we examine the modern world view carefully what we discover is non-religion religions like science or communism that are just as faith based as conventional religion, but deny that they are. Ultimately the real religion of the modern is the worship and deification of the ego self. Thus it makes complete sense that without the true god of the ego comprehending an image, sigil or symbol, that it would entirely lack utility and power.
For Iamblichos and the theurgists, to conform the ego to higher spiritual forces was key; for the modern, the ego is the highest spiritual force.