[Part 2 of 3-part series based on the relationship between Dr. Dean Radin’s Real Magic: Ancient Wisdom, Modern Science, and a Guide to the Secret Power of the Universe and the theory and practice of Visionary Fiction.]
As do several accomplished modern scientists, especially those involved with quantum theory, Dean Radin separates science as a study of specific operations in the external world from the scientific method, which can be adjusted to look inward to explore consciousness itself. Radin’s excitement is palpable when he then concludes, “When we do that, we are startled to find whole new realms of knowledge. One of the consequences of taking this inner perspective is that the idea of magic transforms from an impossible fantasy into an aspect of Nature that we can begin to study….”
His description of this hybrid branch of knowledge is delightfully poetic: “The new discipline will be the study of the psychophysical nature of reality, that mysterious, interstitial space shimmering between mind and matter. Understanding how this enigmatic space works in a way that’s consistent with the rest of science requires a new worldview—the lens through which we understand reality.”
The Scientific Method Applied to the Paranormal
In an earlier post of mine in the section “Applying the Scientific Method to the Paranormal,” I gave a stripped-down version of the three steps of the method:
- specify an experiment (hypothesis, injunction),
- perform the experiment and observe the results,
- Verify/falsify the results with others who have done the same experiment.
The process might then loop back with the revised hypothesis now as step 1 for further round of testing.
The same article cites another scientist, Charles Tart, in The End of Materialism, maintaining that the scientific method has already been scrupulously applied over the last hundreds years to verify the “big five” of paranormal abilities (telepathy, clairvoyance or remote viewing, precognition, psychokinesis, and psychic healing).
Real magic, according to Radin’s three categories (force of will, divination and theurgy–see Part One), covers more paranormal territory than Tart’s “big five.” However, the scientific method can be applied to any additional phenomena observed to test if it is real magic or fantasy invention.
Magic is to Religion as Technology is to Science
Building on the ratio of magic and science, Radin then proposes what I saw as a startling proportion:
Magic is to religion as technology is to science. That is, one difference between religion and magic is that the former is essentially a faith-based theory about the nature of reality, while the latter involves testable applications of that theory. Theories provide meaningful structures proposed to account for an otherwise chaotic and bewildering existence, while applications provide the means of controlling some of the chaos.
There are so many valid branches along this intriguing road (if you are exploding with questions beyond what I can cover, get Real Magic), but, since it feels most akin to topics dear to VF readers and writers, here I’ll stay with the more spiritual (non-material) vein of real magic as it developed in history and how it might be further explored in the visionary story.
Real Magic and the Mystery Schools
Magic is not only everywhere, but it has a mighty long history, and nowhere is that mystery more prominent than in religions ancient (e.g., Orphic, Dionysian, Elysian Mysteries) and recent (e.g., the Catholic Rosary and its 15 Mysteries).
In researching my current novel-in-progress, I went back to the enigmatic Mystery Cults of the Middle East, Egypt and Greece, the time just prior to the crucial “Axial Age,” which is placed between the 8th and 3rd century BCE, so called because it produced an array of great teachers, East and West, who formulated new ways of thinking in religion and philosophy that ultimately changed the vector of history and remain influential today.
Of the relationship between the Mystery and Axial periods, Radin remarks:
One of the sparks that energized the axial age may have emerged from personal experiences within the various mystery schools, which flourished throughout the ancient world. These schools had similar goals: initiation into the mysteries sought “to ‘open the immortal eyes of man inwards’: exalt his powers of perception until they could receive the messages of a higher degree of reality.” In practice, this consisted of experiencing a ritual death of the physical body and subsequent resurrection into a new body, with new capabilities of intuiting secret wisdom, often regarding the functioning of the body itself.
This points to personal experience (the practical application) preceding any codification as religion/philosophy (theoretical explanation). Likely, rituals/images and their observed effects preceded the words describing or explaining them. Before theology there was theurgy, the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or evoking the presence of one or more deities, especially with the goal of achieving henosis [the classical Greek term for mystical “oneness” or union with what is fundamental in reality: the One, the Source] and perfecting oneself.
Need often drives us to experiment; and only after we have found a successful answer, do we have the luxury to sit back and form a theory to fit the problem and the solution.
The mystery rites, still well-kept secrets, were originally developed and administered to aspirants in secluded locations, which later expanded into more public facilities, usually temples, where non-initiates could consult seers and priests for advice through oracles or divination, for health through therapy or prayer, and for illumination from the gods through dreams, discipline and instruction—all services we today seek from medical doctors, healers, counsellors, or spiritual guides.
Christianity and the Mystery (Magic) Schools
Vast and controversial topic here. Since I am also working on a non-fiction book that includes the historical and theoretical information behind the relationship between primitive Christianity and the Mystery schools, I’ll stick with a few teasers here. Above I quoted Radin as saying that a key mystery practice involved “a ritual death of the physical body and subsequent resurrection into a new body”; a parallel with the heart of Christian belief is evident. Scholars still erupt in hot debate over Columbia professor Morton Smith’s 1978 book Jesus the Magician: Charlatan or Son of God? You can speculate from the title on this one. It is not the only hot water about the origins of Christianity that Morton Smith got himself into,
The Perennial Philosophy as the Foundation
As religious practice became more cerebral following the first centuries of the Christian era, theories about the supernatural (theology, philosophy) became more pronounced in the West with pagan theurgy anathematized as evil while Christian mysteries were canonized miracles, inexplicable acts of God or a holy person. We are aware of the illogic and prejudice behind such bifurcations, and the cognitive dissonance they have caused in the last two millennia. However, a valid phenomenon, like a rose by any other name, no matter the effort to suppress it, will continue to reassert itself, usually in proportion to its universality and scope, until it is recognized.
While scholars interested in magic and esotericism tend to focus on the differences among its cultural and historical variations, Dean Radin observes that, if “we focus on the similarities, we find that three simple ideas keep popping up: 1. Consciousness is fundamental, meaning it is primary over the physical world. 2. Everything is interconnected. 3. There is only one Consciousness.”
This is incredibly good news (Gospel!) for the visionary writer searching for the common denominators that will effectively lead to growth in human consciousness. An unbiased examination of our noblest aspirations, no matter the time or place, will ultimately lead to these common truths. This core of ideas and their related practices have existed throughout history and have now become known as the Perennial Philosophy.
“This idea was popularized modernly by British novelist Aldous Huxley in a 1945 book by that title. It says that there is a single, underlying mystical cosmology from which all of the tremendously diverse religious traditions of the world have emerged. This same idea has been called the primordial tradition, the secret wisdom, the forgotten truth, the ancient theology, the prisca theologia, and so on,” Radin says.
Since we define Visionary Fiction as embracing spiritual and esoteric wisdom, often from ancient sources, and making it relevant for our modern life, I hold that the Perennial Philosophy, whether derived from Radin, Huxley, a religious belief, or one’s personal meditation, should be in the background, if not front and center, of every VF work, whether inspirational and optimistic or dark and dystopian.