While my experiences with Chaos magic did a lot of good in that they really expanded my understanding of magic and how it works, one of the unfortunate side effects was that I absorbed the psychological model of magic a little too deeply. (If you’re unfamiliar with the models of magic, here’s their origin.) Essentially, much of the material I found on Chaos magic was slanted heavily towards a highly pragmatic, even solipsistic, psychological perspective of how magic worked. In this model, spirits, gods and other entities aren’t objective beings; rather, they are aspects of the psyche given form for our understanding.
It’s been about three years, maybe a bit more, since I hit the deepest point of immersion in the psychological model. I was still working with totems, but what I read rubbed off on me enough that I *talked* about them as if they were just internal. I don’t think I completely believed it; I’ve interacted with them for too long to ignore the signs that I interpret as proof of their objective existences. Still, this immersion in solipsism has clung to my personal cosmology since then, and it’s been damned hard to scrape off (kind of like hagfish slime). It primarily manifested as a doubt, “Am I really doing what I think I’m doing, or are the spirits I’m talking to all in my head? Are other people getting the real results, while I’m just talking to parts of myself?”
This has led to occasional issues with my magical and spiritual practices. Nothing kills the mood of a ritual quite like a nice big bag of doubt dumped into the middle of the room. However, I’ve been fortunate in that the spirits I’ve been working with have been good about tapping me on the shoulder and bringing my focus back to the ritual at hand. This has helped me to break the cycle of doubt-ritual fails-proof for doubt-etc.
It’s not even that I was ever 100% convinced by the psychological model. Rather, there was always a part of me that maintained, even at my most solipsistic point, that the spirits and gods are “real” in a literal, as well as mythological/metaphorical, sense. But that doubt would come in every so often and steal my confidence.
Some of my Air month work has served to finally kick that habit. I’ve been working on communication, which leads into being more open emotionally, energetically and spiritually. I have a tendency to be insular and introspective to the point where I sometimes get so wrapped up in my head and my concerns that I get a little too focused, and it’s not always easy for me to open up to others. Add in that I learned early on how mean people can be, and I’ve developed quite a defensive “shell”. But I’ve been making headway in the past couple of weeks in learning to open up more to people that I know I can trust–and also opening up to those who may not have physical bodies, but are no less present in my life. (And since they’re not limited by physics, they don’t have to wait for me to open the front door before visiting!)
I was talking to the Animal Father late last week on my commute home. We talked about my attitude towards spirits, and he pointed out that even sitting there talking to him I had that seed of doubt. He asked me if I was willing to open up that last little bit, to consciously choose the belief in spirits over the doubt in spirits. He emphasized that if I was going to journey into the spirit worlds more often, and if I was going to shamanize, that I was going to have to accept the cosmology I was creating entirely. This didn’t mean never questioning my perceptions, or being aware of potentially dangerous beliefs (such as, “God told me to shoot all the meter maids because God hates bureaucracy”). And it’s not even faith, per se, at least not in the stereotypical sense where you never question it, you just go with it.
But in order to do what I need to do in the future as I become more experienced and mature in my path, there comes a point where I have to unceremoniously toss the doubt out on its ear. It serves no purpose other than to trip me up, and any possible benefit it might have is covered, in a more healthy manner, by conscious appraisal of my progress, as well as trading notes with other magical practitioners to get some feedback on what I’m doing.
And so that’s what I’ve done. Belief is a choice. We may feel strongly obligated towards a particular beliefs, but in the end it’s still our decision as to whether we accept those beliefs in our lives or not (never mind the individual interpretation thereof). I choose to allow myself to believe that the Animal Father, the totems, the skin spirits, and all the rest, exist as objective beings, and the experiences I have are quite real. While there is a psychological level to my belief, and I can look at things from that perspective, I no longer feel that that is the only “true” level of spiritual reality. I’m still a big fan of the microcosm-macrocosm connection, but I’m much happier for having gotten rid of the doubt that has become more than useless.
It’s interesting to see someone else caught in that web of social/internal dogma that’s been built up around us Westerners. It’s all “science” and “cold hard facts” – there are days when I fall into these deep existential crises that focus on a thought pattern of, “regardless of what I’m doing or feeling, it can all be boiled down to chemical interactions within my biology or the atomic structure of the universe,” thus rendering a simple great mood into an over-complicated and unpleasing mess.
On the other hand, The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot, brings some positive perspective into this dilemma that faces many of us caught in our pop-culture purgatory. Perhaps those things that we want to perceive as “objective” (and the rest of society tells us is “internal”) become objective through our own internal belief. Is it possible for something (matter, spirit, emotion) to become objective only after rising from an internal process?
I haven’t yet read that book, though I do now have a copy on hand. I did, however, get some good derivative information from George Leonard’s “The Silent Pulse”. I figure somewhere in all this mess of conflicting opinions there’s got to be some way to make it all fit together in a multi-layered manner.