Religion, Magick & ArtPublished August 3, 2019
Religion is, first and foremost, an aesthetic choice. This statement of fact is the underlying dogma for everything that comes after.
We cloak our idea of the sacred in art, using words and rituals to display what we exalt. Religion is an artistic expression: people trying to make their sacred visible and understood. The transcendent evades all language, leaving only art to evoke the sublime. Religion is the brand you slap on your chosen moral code. It is meant to enshrine and justify your values, also to convince others to align (which is why the aesthetics are so important). We wish to see ourselves reflected in the icons of divinity we revere.
Religion and magick are two separate ideas that are closely related. One is a belief system (like an operating system), and the other is a practice (like software), meant to embody the belief – usually through some form of ritual.
Magickal study is essentially metaphysical conjecture. Academic philosophy departments engage in it without the trappings of religion or its dogmatic stewardship. In the end, all roads lead home. The journey can be taken in well-worn vehicles: the Christian bus, the Buddhist train, the Mormon cruise ship. Or, it can be a solitary adventure, born out on the path less worn.
Magickal acts, like prayer, amount to a series of discreet performances done for omniscient beings, or even ourselves. I call magick the “art of wishing,” because it is a more sophisticated form of prayer. Writing a spell is much like writing a legal contract. If your desire is essential enough to summon divine forces, best be explicit about any contingencies. I say this not from a sense of vanity. After decades of trying several different magick/sorcery techniques, I concluded that magick is something that I’m doing on myself. It is the result of messages that I send to my unconscious mind, which subtly shape my interaction with the environment favorably (if done correctly). Well-executed magick relaxes the mind and eases the tension between our abilities and our desires; however, magick and prayer can never replace actual work.
“One man with a shovel can get more done in an hour than a roomful of mages mumbling in the dark.”
~ Infek bin Laden
Even if the technicalities of Chaos Magick slightly increase the likelihood that fortune favors you, the effects are still null without your active effort. Or worse, they are ruined by poorly conceived acts that create obsessive habits of the mind without actually furthering your goal.
The postmodern mindset obliterates all religions, making them equal in both their veracity and absurdity. In this position, everything becomes art – but it need not be seen as reductive. Art, at its most masterful, is magick. And, magick practiced without thought, craft and principle is merely bad art. Ethics and morality are no longer the sole possessions of any religion. They are matters for everyone to contemplate and define. Because most preexisting faiths do not allow for creative exploration of their tenets, antinomian subcultures spring up to do the heavy lifting of deconstruction. (Ave Satanas!)
“It is not that the artist is a different kind of person. It’s that every person is a different kind of artist.”
Every person is a different kind of religion as well. We are all in a religious category of one. The only system of understanding we can get behind 100%, is our own. To pretend otherwise is disingenuous. Religion, magick, or whatever you use to give your life meaning is all about ascribing intent to the patterns and events around you. “Belief” is a form of power best wielded with care, lest its potency becomes diluted by self-deception and delusions of grandeur.
Making the sacred visible in your living reality means crafting a life that is your Opus Magnus, your greatest work, and in alignment with your highest principles. In other words, to live artfully is no easy task, and cannot be accomplished with spell-craft or rote practice. It is the same goal set before all seekers of truth, in all times and all places. It is eudemonia, the self-actualization at the top of Maslow’s pyramid, and the attainment of practical wisdom. Crowley comes close to explaining it here:
“There is beauty in every incident of life; the true and the false, the wise and the foolish, are all one in the eye that beholds all without passion or prejudice: and the secret appears to lie not in the retirement from the world, but in keeping a part of oneself Vestal, sacred, intact, aloof from that self which makes contact with the external universe. In other words, in a separation of that which is and perceives from that which acts and suffers. And the art of doing this is really the art of being an artist. As a rule, it is a birthright; it may perhaps be attained by prayer and fasting; most surely, it can never be bought.”
~ Absinthe: The Green Goddess, Aleister Crowley
Balinese artistic depictions are almost always related to their religious sensibilities.* The quality of the work makes visible the artist’s love for the deity. In Bali, all things are made with an eye to the divine; this holds for practitioners of magick as well. There’s a reason for the terms “dark arts” or “magickal arts” – spells are very much acts of creation.
After touring all the hottest metaphysical movement of the 1990s-2000s, and trying on ideologies like shoes; my conclusion is that a practice is a practice, and there are many beneficial ones. Wisdom can be had a number of ways. The integrity of the seeker matters more than the chosen means of pursuit.
Perhaps it is age or simple resignation, but I no longer plead with the universe for anything. I just treat life as a medium for the artistic expression of my metaphysical truth.
My artworks are my acts of magick, selfish gifts, overtures of love, directed to the universe at large in a bid for authentic connection.
*Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Culture; Selected essays. New York. Basic Books. 1973.