Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Magick and Mental Illness

So this is a "Magick Tuesday" post. Yesterday evening I was at a writing event promoting my fiction, and didn't wind up with enough time to finish writing this up.

Lately there's been some discussion here on Augoeides regarding magick and mental illness. People who think occultism is evil like to throw around ideas like magicians who mess up developing severe mental illness, or wind up in abject poverty, or both. Back in 2007, I posted this article on the topic, which discusses my statistical approach to evaluating claims like those.

These days, fundamentalist Christians - particularly those of the "Green Gospel" persuasion (or heresy, really) - particularly have trouble with the idea that an occultist could ever be financially successful. After all, they believe that material success means God favors you, but they also believe that anything occult is sinful. So a financially successful occultist is a threat to their worldview that needs to be dealt with.

Some of them still buy into the "ritual abuse" nonsense that Satan is blessing occultists when they do things that are "evil enough," basically a Manichean inversion of the Green Gospel itself. But when occultists like me explain that magick just doesn't work like that, again, it's a threat. In fact, it's the Green Gospel that is messed up. There's nowhere in the New Testament where Jesus says that the rich are blessed and the poor are forsaken. In fact, Jesus says the exact opposite in The Sermon On The Mount.

Aleister Crowley gets brought up in this context a lot as an occultist who died "broke and insane," but a lot of the basis for that comes from John Symonds' tabloid biography The Great Beast. This is very inaccurate account of Crowley's life that accepted every claim about that made it into the press as true, regardless of how outlandish it sounded. Crowley was not seriously mentally ill in his old age - read The Book of Thoth, which was written towards the end of his life. It's dense like most of Crowley's writing, but it's lucid, comprehensive, complex, and deep. It is not the work of a "crazy person."

And Crowley was relatively poor at the end of his life, but for an entirely obvious and non-mysterious reason. By that time Crowley had spent his entire family fortune self-publishing his occult works. Back then book production was extremely expensive because it was still done mostly by hand, and works like The Equinox never made much if any money. Had Crowley lived in the time of CreateSpace, I imagine he probably would have died a wealthy man.


My own experience contradicts these claims as well. I have been practicing magick for a long time and I'm quite well-off. I've used magick over the years to help my software development career and if I don't say so myself, I'm pretty good at doing that. Never let somebody tell you that working a "regular job" means you're a bad magician. Back in 2015 that ridiculous idea was being thrown around on the blogosphere, and this was my response.

If you still don't believe me regarding magick and mental illness, here's an article from somebody with more education in the field than my Bachelor's in psychology - and a lot of practical experience as well. Dr. David Hill is a fellow OTO initiate and a licensed clinical psychologist, who probably knows more about mental illness than I ever will. Here are his thoughts on the issue.

It is important to first describe “mental illness.” Everyone has various neuroses, traits, and features of mental illness. For example, sustained stress may create an anxious reaction in someone until that stress is reduced. Or someone may utilize counting behaviors in order to reduce stress. That does not necessarily mean that either individual meets criteria for an anxiety disorder or an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Mental illness occurs when the level of symptoms reach the point where they are actively interfering with the ability of an individual to function in their daily lives. For example, the aforementioned person with anxiety begins to have panic attacks with such frequency that they cannot leave their home and their employment is in jeopardy. Or a person becomes so depressed that they are not eating, are sleeping all day, not going to work, not keeping up with their hygiene, and are contemplating suicide. You can see the difference between an expected reaction to life stressors and the development of a mental disorder.

Now there are some attitudes that I see floating around portions of the occult community that might result in a more normal condition like garden-variety anxiety rising to the level of "mental illness" according to this definition. Specifically, there are misguided folks out there who teach or at the very least imply that magick can be a substitute for mundane action. There are are some fairly messed-up ideas in the occult community about basic necessities like money.

If you ignore making a living to focus on magical work, you may very well wind up far more stressed because you're always broke. If you do magick for something and take no mundane actions to support it, and then decide when your spell didn't work that it just "wasn't mean to be," you can wind up in a very bad place from the standpoint of "handling your shit." Our society is no help at all. Once you're poor, it seems like all the institutions we have are designed to keep you that way.

And as a point, I think this is an entirely reasonable explanation for why some magical practitioners wind up poor. They start ignoring the mundane in favor of the spiritual, which you should never under any circumstances do unless you are, say, conducting a magical retreat at a monastery where your physical needs are being taken care of. This is what is mean by the Rosicrucian idea of "wearing the clothing of one's country." You should take care of your mundane needs first, and then let your magical practice enrich your regular life rather than entirely replacing it.

I should also differentiate between fairly standard mental disorders and more severe mental disorders. A large percentage of the population will experience a clinically significant depressive episode or clinically significant anxiety at some point in their lives. I’ve certainly experienced both. Those are very common and often relatively easy to treat. However, more serious mental disorders often require lifelong medication in order to keep symptoms suppressed. Psychotic disorders can be so confusing to a person that they cannot distinguish between reality and delusions. A full manic state as in Biploar I (as opposed to the more minor Bipolar II’s hypomania) may require hospitalization due to the individual engaging in risky and compulsive behaviors and even losing touch with consensus reality. Both conditions require medication to treat.

With that noted, I’ll state that in the past I’ve served as a lodge secretary and as the International Initiation Secretary for IHQ [International Headquarters.] If people wrote to the IHQ PO Box in Austin, TX, back around the turn of the century, chances are good that I was the one picking up the mail. I’ve certainly received my fair share of delusional letters and psychotic manifestos. I do think that we have a pretty average level of people with more standard mental disorders who develop an interest in the occult as compared with the general population. However, I think that the question was likely focused on people with more severe mental disorders.

When I talk about how one person in four has some kind of mental illness, I am not talking about these more severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar I. Schizophrenia is found in 0.3% to 0.7% in the general population, which averages out to somewhere around one person in two hundred. Bipolar disorder occurs in about 3% of the population, or one person in thirty-three.

But when you're looking at cases of magical practitioners with mental illness on the Internet, that still is potentially a large number of people numerically - just not statistically. And in order to conclude a correlation between the two, let alone a causal relationship, you need to show that the percentages are higher. "Data" is not the plural of "Anecdote."

I have run into more people with severe mental illness who are drawn to the occult than I’ve ever run into in the general population. That could be for several reasons. First, in the general population, people who have severe mental illness are often a hidden minority. A floridly psychotic man probably would not be able to keep a home or a job and would likely be living on the streets. Most people wouldn’t run into him in their daily lives. Additionally, the occult seems on the surface to grant wishes with the mere waving of a magick wand. That is magical thinking (a technical term denoting the misattribution of causality between two events). Experienced practitioners know that this is not how magick works, but this perception may just fit right into a delusional person’s view of reality. So yes, I do think that occult studies attracts a larger percentage of people with severe mental disorders than we see in the general population. However, I don’t see many people who have such severe symptoms sticking around for a significant amount of time.

Personally, I think Hill's explanations here make a lot more sense than the idea that magick somehow causes severe mental illness. It's become more and more clear over the years that these illnesses have a strong genetic component, and the psychodynamic idea that they are caused by even fundamental environmental factors like upbringing is flat-out wrong. About the only way that magick could have any sort of a causal effect is if you engage in practices that increase your stress level, because stress can be a trigger. But in the case of severe mental illness, the underlying condition was there the whole time.

And let's turn this around, too. Magical training can help you manage symptoms of mental illness, but it should not be seen as a substitute for medical treatment. Like any chronic condition, it is difficult if not impossible to use magick on its own as a cure. So it's about time that stigmas about mental illness in the occult be dispensed with as well.

An occultist who is mentally ill did not get that way by being a "bad magician." They were likely born that way. The fact that someone has not managed to use magick to cure their mental illness is likewise not the mark of a "bad practitioner." These conditions are pernicious and difficult to treat without medication, and they are especially difficult to deal with because they affect the mind, the magician's principal "magical weapon."

My advice is this - dispense with the scare tactics, and dispense with the stigma. If you want to practice magick, practice magick, so long as you understand that the best way to get results is for mundane and magical actions to work together. If you need medical treatment, get medical treatment, and don't worry that it means you're a failure as a magician. Get to the point where you're "handling your shit," and use your magical skills and mundane knowledge to keep yourself there.

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5 comments:

Dacia Pacea said...

It all comes down to the birth chart. I haven't studied the astrological aspects that predispose to mental illness, but I suspect a hard aspect to Mercury could be a reason. Sun-Uranus tensed aspects could be another. Maybe Uranus in the first or sixth house, in a bad aspect... I need to study more on this.

Dacia Pacea said...

Uranus in the 12th house!

Scott Stenwick said...

There are a lot of possibilities there. I think that you have to look at the various components of the psyche in order to get a clear picture.

Mercury corresponds to thoughts and ideas, so I would say that hard Mercury aspects (or debilities) could lead to delusions - that is, disordered thinking. Uranus behaves like a "higher octave" of Mercury, so it could be related as well.

Emotional problems more properly correspond to Venus. Neptune acts like a "higher octave" of Venus and could be involved with those. So depression and the like would probably correspond to one of those.

I would say bipolar could also be related to the Moon. The Moon is what provides a foundation to the personality and adds stability, so one way bipolar could manifest is as a lack of stability in the emotional realm. Bipolar I can be a lack of stability in thinking, too.

Also, Mars could be implicated in things like poor anger management and problems with violent emotions.

The danger of this sort of analysis is that our observations need to be falsifiable. Those are a lot of planets and aspects, and it is possible that considering all those could give you a possible "just-so story" to explain almost any observation. The trick is to pare it down to a smaller set that works most of the time.

Dacia Pacea said...

Yes, and Saturn can cause depression, melancholy, and sorrow :)

You're right that the aspects would need to be narrowed down to a smaller group, but that would imply studying a large number of people with mental issues. Each in their own category, ie depression, bipolar etc. Then pinpoint the aspects that stand out for each category and then those that are common for all of them. Which is hard work, unfortunately.

In any case, I'm very optimistic that working on the aspects can improve things. Otherwise it's like you say, casting on a chronic illness.

Dallan said...

Thanks for the wonderful master text !!!
and learned a lot about the astrology relationship through the comments, thank you scott <3 , and thank you dear brother dacia <3