If it is not yet obvious, I have a great deal of difficulty with the traditional foundations of Occult Philosophy. My own philosophical leanings are strongly influenced by Post-Modernism (and by this I don’t mean the pop philosophy watered down bullshit that reduces the complex actions of Post-Modernism to nothing more than vapid relativism and moral disintegration, but the rigorous political and literary critiques of Deleuze and Foucault), as well as Phenomenology, with a fair dose of Queer and Feminist Theory thrown in. All of which is poised, emphatically, against Ideal Forms and Absolutes.
In no small part, the thrust of these various philosophies has been to dismantle the work of Plato and Aristotle in establishing the realm of the ideal, which, it just so happens, is also the frame work for, well, all of Hermetic Philosophy (and before we try and pretend that modern Paganism is its own discrete thing from Hermeticism, let us recall how many key texts for today’s large Pagan communities were written under the influence of the Golden Dawn and the Victorian and Early Twentieth Century occult organizations that made no secret of their Hermeticist connections). Ideal forms and hidden realms of truth pervade Occult Philosophy, and I frequently wonder, given their ubiquity, whether it is possible to derive a properly Occult Philosophy without them. Indeed, the very meaning of occult is “hidden”, the foundations of the philosophy rely upon the unseen before you even get past the name.
I don’t mean to say that all modern Metaphysical Traditions (let’s drop Occult, for the time being) rely on these constructs. Hedge witchery, hoodoo, rootwork, and various other earth and land based practices take for granted the innateness of magic and the divine. For these sorts of practices, Divinity and Power are directly manifest in the world at large. It seems to me that these more, dare I say, naive (and by naive, perhaps I mean pre-analytical) practices are closer to an actual description of the function of the Divine within the world. They derive, foremost, from experience and interaction, and use that as the basis for their reflection and analysis, rather than the inverse.
I would never assert that Hermetic Magic is ineffective, I have am fully aware of its power, however, I do not feel like the foundations of its philosophy adequately reflect the function of the world (though they do, I charge, reflect the power and function of the word). As an aside, I grow easily frustrated with Hermetic Philosophy in its frequent assertions that it contains the only truth, that all else is an illusion, that all gods are merely reflections of the Great Hermetic God. These sentiments are widespread throughout early modern occult writings, particularly those of Dion Fortune (who is also terribly homophobic. Don’t believe me? Read the Mystical Kabbalah. She calls gays pathological, flat out).
However, I also think that these sentiments of single truth are a manifestation of the Platonic world view, which relies on a truth which is always distant and inaccessible (save to the truly inspired and initiated) that governs and directs the physical world. As such, the physical world has no power, no substance: all is removed and separated from that which we experience, for we experience nothing but the shadows of the divine cast upon the wall of our flesh. This kind of logic is flatly offensive and dehumanizing. The divine cannot be present in the world by such a philosophy if, by its very nature, the flesh cannot contain, experience, or manifest divinity.
We are, before anything else, embodied. All of our knowledge, all of our experience, everything that constitutes us derives entirely from our fleshliness. Therefore, this must be the starting point of all philosophy. A proper Philosophy of the Spirit must, then, begin with the flesh and move through experience until the Spiritual is encountered manifestly.
Case in point, the concepts behind the practice of sacred geometry hold that all is an instantiation of divine mathematical principles. However, such a starting point ignores the key point that mathematics is itself a construction of consciousness and has no force in the world at large. What we define as mathematics are relations which first require an active subject to observe and codify. Without the mind, there is no math. Math does no press forth into the world, the mind constructs and utilizes math to describe the formal relations which it perceives around it. The symmetrical growth of a crystal is not a result of divine principles, it is a result of mere formal relationships which demand that it must, given its nature, form in a particular way. The symmetry, the perfect geometry, of its growth is not pressed upon it, it is present in its very nature at all moments and merely named and categorized once the mind encounters it. Indeed, the crystal does not recognize its growth, nor is its growth recognized by the world itself. The crystal grows because it must given its nature and the nature of its environs. There is no divine principle governing such growth, merely formal relations.
The insertion of divine principles here more obfuscates and confounds the issue, particularly when dealing with irregular patterns and distorted forms. If all is a reflection of divine principles, one then must account for why the crystal rarely grows in geometric perfection. Surely, if the divine were absolutely guiding from beyond all physical instantiation, then all instantiation would be a perfect reflection of the divine. However, we do not possess that total mathematical purity that our invented geometry demands, therefore the world must be somehow fallen, declined, degenerated from the divine. In order for this mathematical purity to hold, the world itself must be, again, removed from divinity, which is always elsewhere, always removed, always beyond. And, again, this is obviously and patently the wrong move. So enamored with the idea of purity, the world is cast into shadow to salvage the bizarrely idealized divine.
The distorted crystal reflects divinity just as powerfully as the perfect form grown in a vacuum. Each, being instantiated, being encountered by the mind, is enriched and enlivened with the power of the subject. From the flesh, from the complicated growth of the subject, springs all spirituality. That which is Spiritual means nothing without first the subject out of which such experience blossoms. How can we remove the Spirit from the Man? In doing so we evacuate not only Man, but Divinity of Spirituality, for suddenly the spiritual is no longer subjective, and if it is not subjective, it is nothing at all.
There for, foremost, the flesh must dominate our reflections. It seems to me that Spiritual reflection must grown out of an experience of the world, and that Spirituality should manifest in and enliven the world itself. As the subject forms out of interaction with the world, so Spirituality blossoms from that same source.