Magick & Imagination

Robert Taylor

MAGICK must, by definition, be creative. Creativity has to result from Magick, and inform Magick; otherwise, there is no Magick. Creativity stems from the Imagination, the faculty to conceive in the mind. The imaginative faculties of Humanity have atrophied over the millennia as we have, with our greater and greater advances in technology, become bound to only one aspect of reality, to the exclusion of all others. It is the work of creative magicians to restore this faculty, both in themselves and human consciousness at large. Imagination is the Key to Magick, just as it is to Art. It is no coincidence that Magick is often referred to as an Art, as are many other activities where the action has become automatic, i.e. from a deeper source than the so-called conscious mind. By Imagination is meant that which is commonly called the Unconscious, both personal and collective. I have dwelt extensively on the Unconscious in a previous essay. (1*)

It is a common misconception that the term 'Unconscious' has come to imply something inside ourselves, in contrast with other terms which often imply something purely external. Imagination, in the sense that Coleridge and Blake used it, has no such restriction; it has a much wider scope. It implies something existing between the external and internal perception, and inhabiting both. Nothing, after all, exists outside consciousness. Imagination precedes perception, raising it to the level of Vision. It intrudes into our 'normal' perceptions and suffuses them, thereby revealing itself - whether internally as dreams and inspirations or externally as visions or phenomena. Seen from this light, Imagination is not a passive thing, a passing fancy or a whimsical mental construct. It is something more dynamic - wider and deeper ranges of consciousness than that which we think of as human. These ranges of consciousness intrude ofttimes into human consciousness; they inspire, energise, initiate. This sense of Imagination as intruding into consciousness has been experienced by many creative artists in all sorts of fields of endeavour, and goes under a variety of terms. The intrusion will be interpreted by a religious person as the hand of God; by a poet as the Muse; by the artist as inspirational creativity; by the Jungian psychologist as the Collective Unconscious; by the magician as supra-human or extra-terrestrial entity. Whatever the term used to describe it, human consciousness has been charged by an infusion of something beyond its bounds.

As an example, this sense of alien intrusion into consciousness was articulated thus by the author H.P. Lovecraft in one of his letters:
... The true function of phantasy is to give the imagination a ground for limitless expansion, & to satisfy aesthetically the sincere & burning curiosity and sense of awe which a sensitive minority of mankind feel towards the alluring & provocative abysses of unplumbed space and unguessed entity which press in upon the known world from unknown infinities & in unknown relationships of time, space, matter, force, dimensionality, & consciousness.
The catalyst for this current of inspiration from Beyond is Imagination, which has been rightly called "the star in Man". (2*) Magicians without imagination are deluding themselves that they are doing Magick. This is why Magick has dwindled into a form of 'do-it-yourself psycho-therapy', a 'healing of the self', in many quarters. Real Magick is the total alteration of 'reality' to encompass realities other than the one we are most familiar with, a trafficking with wider and deeper ranges of consciousness, something outside of that which makes us merely human.

All too often, Imagination has been dismissed as mere mental invention by the rational mind. On the contrary, it is often the frenetic activity of that rational mind which prevents Imagination from being perceived as the fertile influx which it could so easily become. Many traditions, for instance, epitomise the sleep of that rational mind as the time when communication with informing Imagination holds sway. Dreams are often dismissed as a mish-mash of thoughts and reflections on daily events during the waking hours. That there is a large element of this is undeniable on the basis of what we know as our own consciousness. Yet, something more may use the opportunity to slip past the rational censor. Once again, Lovecraft expressed this very succinctly. As has been well documented, the inspiration for Lovecraft's remarkable stories came from dreaming. His letters reveal him to be a romantic at heart, but crippled with a compulsive, reductionist rationalism. Little wonder, then, that his dreams and stories assumed almost a life of their own. Rather than conscious creations, they are a vivid illustration of the intrusion of Imagination into human consciousness. Lovecraft was aware of this, as the following extract from Beyond the Wall of Sleep suggests:
... From my experience, I cannot doubt but that man, when lost to terrestrial consciousness, is indeed sojourning in another and uncorporeal life of far different nature from the life we know, and of which only the slightest and most indistinct memories exist after waking ... We may guess that in dreams life, matter, and vitality, as the earth knows such things, are not necessarily constant; and that time and space do not exist as our waking selves comprehend them. Sometimes I believe that this less material life is our truer life, and that our vain presence on this terraqueous globe is itself the secondary or merely virtual phenomenon.
This passage articulates magical doctrine precisely, whereby 'human' consciousness is an aspect of a boundless field of consciousness, one aspect amongst a myriad. Human consciousness seems to us to be individualised, with fixed boundaries separating us from the world outside those boundaries. In reality there are no boundaries; there is a constant shifting, a flux and flow of awareness, as 'our' field of consciousness contracts or expands. The field is one amongst a vast number of ranges of consciousness, which often impinge upon 'our' consciousness. Kenneth Grant uses the term 'Beyond' or 'Outside' in this sense, meaning that which lies beyond the perceived boundaries of individualised consciousness. Imagination is the catalyst whereby these wider and deeper ranges of consciousness can be accessed, and the self-imposed boundaries of individualised consciousness are pushed outwards. Magick is a means for such integration, for such expansion of consciousness.

The combination, and negation, of all possible realities comprises the ultimate Reality, that which is Not. Real results from Magick are those that affect this 'plane', as every real magician should know: You haven't really seen a demon until it's bitten you, and you've got the scar to prove it. The same applies to such phenomena as stigmata: Imagination is capable of producing events we term as real; i.e. a vision of Christ can produce a real wound that bleeds real blood. This might seem an obvious mind/body connection, and therefore possible; but remember, it can also produce the impossible: statues that weep tears of real human blood etc. Demons and bleeding statues (and UFO's, lake-monsters, aliens, fairies etc.) inhabit a reality other than ours, a reality of the Imagination, a world between fact and fiction. They are fully capable of acting independently and autonomously, and have, since the beginning of time, been crossing over from their world into ours, as countless examples testify. They are a personification of Imagination, but it is not always 'us' doing the personifying. Imagination is fully capable of personifying itself.

Although it is our Imagination that allows this to happen, paradoxically it is often the people with least Imagination who achieve the most spectacular results (but always involuntarily). It is interesting to note that it is the people who fervently believe in the Loch Ness Monster, demons and UFO's who are least likely to see them. This is because they have accepted that aspect of reality where such things exist. The most spectacular events usually occur to people who were initially sceptical of such things. I'm reminded of St. Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus: his conversion was a direct consequence of his previously fanatical refusal to accept Jesus. Imagination was therefore compelled to employ a way of converting him as extreme and violent as his denial of it. Paul did his best to convince others of his essentially Gnostic experience, ("Gnostic", because personal, 'carnal'; for "Jesus Christ" is a composite of myths, and never existed as a human being) yet they took him literally. The resultant dogma is the bastardised religion we have come to know as Christianity. Similarly, we must not take latterday Gnostic experiences literally, whatever the form they appear to us in.

The 'alien abduction' phenomenon is a case in point. Many people take this literally, and believe in real spaceships from a real place, when even a cursory examination of the events show quite a different pattern. Significantly, most 'abductees' report a feeling of paralysis. The human brain secretes a chemical during sleep that does just this. It is this chemical that prevents us from getting up and enacting our dreams; sleepwalkers are suffering from an insufficient 'dose'. The inference, therefore, is that 'abductees' are in a state somewhere between sleeping and waking, a liminal state where anything can, and does, happen. Typically, some form of sexual emphasis is placed on the encounter: sometimes forced, sometimes invited. The very act of dreaming causes sexual excitation in humans, as our autonomous nervous systems have a free rein with the contents of the mind, rummaging through a plethora of archetypal images and imposing its own chaotic order and powers on them. Aware, at some level, that we are sexually excited, a loop is set up that reinforces itself, and we experience a sexual encounter. Without proper training, we may not like the form of the sexual encounter, as repressed material is just as likely to be used as not.

It is also significant that most 'abductions' happen to Americans. This is probably a cultural phenomenon, and it happens because popular American culture is too egocentric, denying the reality of the Imagination. The culture is based almost exclusively on the achievements and rewards of this aspect of reality, and ignores other dimensions of consciousness. It is no coincidence that the majority of 'abductees' are ordinary people, those swallowed whole by popular culture. Nowhere are there reports of artists and poets being abducted, for example; although significantly, many 'abductees' become such after the sudden intrusion of Imagination into their lives. Even the best known 'abductee', Whitley Streiber, was an unimaginative minor author until his experiences transformed him into the best-selling author of Communion. That peoples lives can be so unenriched by Imagination is demonstrated by the overly enthusiastic reaction often given to those opportunities for Imagination to run riot: look at the hysteria with which Americans embrace Halloween, for example, or the hype that surrounds Hollywood.

This does not apply exclusively in the United States, of course. These remarks apply more generally to Western popular culture as a whole, and in particular where the English language predominates. Bearing this in mind, it seems likely that Imagination, adopting the forms of Gods in order that we may perceive it, 'chose' Aleister Crowley, an Englishman, to he its prophet, thereby restoring to the English-speaking world something of the Gnosis that our 'sophisticated' culture has lost. This Gnosis, though collective, is also deeply relevant to the individual which is why received texts, such as the Book of the Law, are open to such wide interpretations on many levels. All such interpretations are equally valid; there cannot possibly be only one interpretation to the exclusion or denigration of others. Those who claim that such is the case usually also claim that theirs is the only way to "Truth'. This happened when the early Christians began to petrify their teachings into dogma, and to persecute other Christians, such as the Cathars and the Gnosties, as 'heretics', or 'radicals'. Unfortunately, this lesson does not seem to have been learned, and it happens again and again, even within the Thelemic community. Yet history demonstrates, time and again, that it is just these 'radicals' who remain true to the original Gnosis.

It is Imagination which is the force behind the creative interpretation of received texts, just as it was the force behind their initial reception. Otherwise, these texts would have no more meaning than writing down one's dreams for pure entertainment. It is only when dreams are interpreted that they become significant, and such is their imaginative imagery that they, too, are capable of many differing interpretations, again all equally valid.

Creativity in Magick is the path to the Gateway. The slavish repetition of Crowley's rituals will not make a magician, any more than the endless dissection of rats will make a scientist. Crowley's rituals were intended, as he himself said, only as guides towards setting up a system of one's own.(3*) Nothing like Crowley's 'system' existed prior to Crowley; the Temple of Initiation was constructed by him afresh, on the basis of his magical and mystical experience. Similar considerations apply to Blavatsky, to Mathers, to Grant, and to the untold numbers of magicians and mystics whose names have not been preserved by posterity. This creativity is, in fact, Initiation. It is only those Magicians who actively use their creativity who are transmitting the Current. The rest become armchair magicians, book-collectors, and scholars, endlessly perpetuating dogma. Creativity can never be dogmatic; what would Art be like, if every artist in the world merely kept on repainting the Mona Lisa? No playwright copies Shakespeare's plays; they encounter his work and are inspired to create their own.

Re-enacting rituals written by another will make you an actor in a drama, nothing more. A distinction needs to be made here: some rituals - such as those of certain tribal mysteries, or of the Christian Church, or those which Crowley wrote for the Ordo Templi Orientis before its reorganisation and realignment with the Stellar Gnosis - are pure dramas. They are mnemonic devices for the communication of knowledge, not Gnosis. They serve the same function as fairy tales and folklore. Gnosis comes from one's own personal experience, one's own rituals. It is not conferred on one, like the bite of a werewolf; nor can it be purchased in a phony 'initiation' ceremony. True initiation is only ever earned, never bought; and this earning takes place only after one's own creativity has been brought into play. For this to happen, the Imagination needs to be accessed. It is the function of creative occultism to stimulate this, as when an artist paints something never seen before. The result is a transformation of consciousness in all those exposed to the stimulation; suddenly, something that was impossible becomes possible.

This is one of the functions of the Ordo Templi Orientis in its present phase, and the current OHO, Kenneth Grant, has written a series of books that do precisely this. His approach has garnered criticism in some quarters. It's a sorry state of affairs when other self-professed Magicians aver that such and such is untrue, or couldn't really have happened, or, worse, "doesn't make sense". This is a fundamentalist attitude, akin to those Christians who believe that the Bible is absolute, literal truth, a true history. Whilst you may find history, biography, scholarship and truth in a book on Magick, do not expect to find them in a Magical Book. The distinction is important, for only historians write history. Magicians do magick, and their creativity is expressed sometimes in writing, sometimes in poetry and sometimes in Art. If a Magician is reproached with the charge of "myth-making", such critics have surely missed the point, for they have made the mistake of taking his or her writings literally. Imagination and Magick do not work literally: They approach you sideways on, sneak up, and work when you are 'not looking'. In his Poetics, Aristotle wrote that Poetry is more truthful than History, because it is less encumbered with facts. This also recalls a paragraph in Van Gogh's letters where he wrote:
How to achieve such inaccuracies, such alteration and refashionings of reality, that what comes out of it is lies if you like, but lies that are more true than literal truth.
Fiction, therefore, is not neccesarily untruthful.

Kenneth Grant has continued to transmit the Current publicly and successfully, choosing to use words as his medium, using them in the same Inanner as Austin Spare used images. As did Spare with his artwork, Grant uses a mixture of the real and the surreal, a kind of ? 'sidereal writing', to fecundate his readers'minds, to stimulate Imagination. The fruit of this work is obvious; for nearly fifty years people, particularly artists, authors, poets, and magicians, have been inspired by Grant's work: inspired not to follow and repeat, but to strike out into new territories, forge new links, and take Magick, creativity and Imagination in ever new directions. Occasionally, their own work leads them in totally new and different directions to those they originally envisaged, and some even leave the field of Magick entirely (although it doesn't leave them!). This is a sure sign of creativity, for it demonstrates that such people are not using Magick, or the social aspect of group membership, as a crutch, as often happens, but have gained the fearlessness and courage to strike out on their own. It's also a valid test of the O.T.O.'s methods, for true initiation comes from the fount at the heart of the individual, and is therefore not tied to any particular dogma or personality cult.

Twenty years ago, in Nightside of Eden, and elsewhere since, Grant stressed the immanence of an incursion of what he calls 'Nightside' forces into our world. He has used the term 'extra-terrestrial' in its literal sense - something 'not of this earth', i.e. not of this 'plane'. Unfortunately, his critics have misinterpreted this, referring, not to the actual meaning of the term, but to the popular notion of 'little Green men'. This misinterpretation might seem absurd; yet what is the 'alien abduction' phenomenon, but just such an incursion? Because Western culture is becoming increasingly impervious to Imagination, so Imagination is forced to make its presence known in ever more intrusive ways, to restore the balance, to convert us as it converted St. Paul. Imagination desires to be utilised, its function is to be fulfilled. Ignored, it will do its own utilising, of repressed ideas, cultural icons, archetypal images, symbolism, images from the mass media, anything to get itself across. The definition of 'conceiving in the mind' is an apt one, for it is a direct analogy to the sexual urge to create. Repressed, the sexual instinct strikes back, often in ever more bizarre ways. The most potent form of Imagination is the sexual Imagination, which is the basis for sexual magick. It is via the sexual magick of the O.T.O. that Imagination can be harnessed, but the Imagination has to be active in the first place. Sexmagick without an actively stimulated Imagination is barren, as countless creatively redundant magical groups testify.

Seen in this light, specific traditions are not passive modes of working, but a living charge of current upon which the Initiate of that tradition draws, and to which he or she contributes, by virtue of his or her magical and mystical workings. To that extent he or she is a transmitter of that tradition; he or she is charged by the current, and throws off a force. An excellent example of this is the Typhonian Current, which as Kenneth Grant has demonstrated is of an extremely ancient lineage. Initiates of that tradition stand as inheritors of that lineage, that accumulation of inspiring energy. In drawing upon the inspiration of that current, it is also their role to transmit that current, adapted to prevailing conditions. They also thereby strengthen it, adding to the reservoir of creativity that their successors will draw upon in their turn.

Creativity can be defined as 'subconscious' activity that makea connections, an organic bridge, between ideas. It is also the bridge between the apparently individual expression of consciousness and the vast ranges outside the confines of that individuality. Imagination is truly creative when it forms a bridge that no-one has formed before, making, as explained above, the impossible possible. For your Imagination to function at its optimum, it makes sense for you to feed it as much in the way of raw material to work with as you can. With hardly anything to work with, never opening yourself to new experiences, your Imagination will remain frustrated and repressed. The principle is demonstrated by an accurate use of the Tarot: the images and their meanings are absorbed into the Imagination, the pack is shuffled, as the Imagination 'shuffles' its 'contents'. Once the requisite state of mind is obtained, the Imagination then forms connections between the cards laid out, based upon the information it holds. The resultant reading is a 'fiction', in the sense of being created out of apparently nothing; as outlined earlier, though, this 'fiction' contains more truth than a simple character assessment or prediction, based on 'the known facts', ever could; the underlying connections subtly blur the distinctions between what is, and what isn't 'real'. This ultimately demonstrates, of course, that the real 'fiction' is that aspect of reality which we term 'real life', our everyday waking consciousness.

It will be readily seen then, that creativity in magick entails developing ever new methods of working, new and better methods of achieving the same ends. Austin Spare achieved this with his system of sigilisation, for example; the sheer simplicity of it demonstrated that ceremonial pomp and portentous mystery was unnecessary, and now redundant. Magicians of today should not still be utilising rituals developed and written by their forebears, chanting words in foreign tongues because it sounds impressive, or striving to acquire exotic paraphernalia from farflung lands. The people who originated those practices did no such thing; they used their own tongue, their current technology and the materials that came readily to hand. The magick is in the state of mind obtained, so if a magician still needs all these 'props' to achieve his or her ends, they are simply making life very difficult for themselves. It is akin to sending a message by runner or carrier pigeon, when it is far easier to pick up the phone. The continuing use of props to 'trigger' magick signifies a lack of a developing Imagination. Those persons with a highly developed imaginative faculty no longer need such devices. A skilled magician, sitting motionless, alone, and silent, will achieve far more, and more easily, than someone who requires a particular time, place and trappings before they can work their magick. This is precisely why Crowley stressed that magick be treated as a science, meticulously recording every magical act, in the manner of a scientific experiment. Only in this way can a body of data be built up, upon which to build a system of one's own. For example, if two individuals, one in England and the other in, say, Japan, both contact Lam through rituals of their own devising, then plainly the ritual in itself was not responsible. Both rituals would have differed widely, both in their performance, and language used. The magick, therefore, is not in the sound of the words or in the actions performed. These are merely symbolic devices. The magick lies, as explained above, in what is common to both rites; the intent behind the act, the use of the Imagination.

In conclusion, therefore, we can see that there are no limits to what magick, in conjunction with Imagination, can achieve. If magick is to progress beyond superstition, then it is the task of creative magicians to dispense with superfluous details, and concentrate instead on devising more efficient ways of, in Van Gogh's words, "refashionings of reality".

  1. Consciousness and Liber AL, Starfire Vol. I;5
  2. Martin Ruland, Lexicon of Alchemy, 1612
  3. "... he doesn't ask for followers; would despise and refuse them. He wants an independent and self-reliant body of students to follow out their own methods of research." Magick, edited by John Symonds and Kenneth Grant, page xxi

© Robert Taylor

with permission:
BCM Starfire
London WC1N 3XX
Starfire - Magazine of the Typhonian Order - 2-1

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