Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Open and Closed Systems: Magical Models

In Science class, I learned about open and closed systems when I learned about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. Ok, maybe I learned about it from the link over there. Anyway, POS post reminded me of it. I liked his post, it was appealing. The last paragraph is what I wanted to draw your attention to:

It is important to know which tool to use for which type of magick. I saw little need to ask the universe to sacrifice to make this goal happen. Nor did I see a need for any other human to sacrifice anything financially for this. Frankly, it is only important to me. Sometimes practical magick can be purely internal.
I totally agree with the sentiment he expresses. Sometimes practical magic can be internal, and he's got a great methodology to deal with paying off debt by doing magic to make him responsible in his money management. I need to do similar magic to get the power to overcome the ongoing temptation to splurge when I can't afford it. Every character flaw we address using magic will have a huge reward in practical terms when we stop behaving in ways that sabotage our success. I couldn't agree more about that, and that's his main point, or at least the main point I took away from his post.

But in the paragraph, he uses the word "sacrifice" in a way that prompted me to write this post. I'm sure he'll correct me if I'm wrong, but I think the premise he's working from is that the universe is a "closed system," that is, the universe exists and all that is within it is all there is. Ergo, if you do a ritual for money, the money has to come from somewhere. Like the Universe has a bank account with limited funds, and taking a withdrawal for yourself results in there being less left over for anyone else to use. So the universe or someone else has to "sacrifice" some of its stuff to take care of your magical request.

In a closed system, entropy is always accumulating. Eventually, in a closed system, everything becomes a jumbled chaotic mess. There is a tendency for disorder to accumulate. It's like if you pour salt into a bag, and then pour pepper on top of it. When both are in the bag, it starts out neat and ordered. The pepper is all together on top of the salt. If you start shaking the bag, the pepper and salt mingle, and the more you shake it, the more mixed it will get. No amount of shaking will result in the pepper gathering together and the salt gathering together, statistically speaking. It's extremely improbable.

One of the arguments for Creationism is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. People say that if the Earth is a closed system, life wouldn't have evolved on it because that's order accumulating, and not disorder. (I think an argument could be made that life is actually a manifestation of disorder, but it becomes moot when you consider the obvious.) The Earth is not a closed system. The Sun is constantly adding its radiation to the mix, asteroids crash into it, and comets bring water and hydrocarbons from the bowels of space to power our vehicles. (You don't REALLY think decaying carbon-based life forms turn into oil under pressure, do you? They don't. That's a theory from the 1700s. If that worked, we could produce oil. We can't. It comes from comets.)

So if the Universe were a closed system, magic done for money for me would potentially be magic that takes money from you. However, if we really look at "money" (for example) and where it comes from, we find out that it's completely created. The Federal Reserve just added a few billion dollars to the economy by simply printing it, inflation be damned. It's poor economics, but it reveals that there is no limit to the amount of "money" that can be conjured. It doesn't come from a closed system.

Now, before I go any further, I'd like to point out that the following parts are all theory, not fact. Belief, interpretation, conjecture, and opinion. I'm not saying I'm right, I'm just saying this is how I see it and it works for me. Your mileage may vary.

In my cosmology, the Universe is not a closed system. God created it, emanated it, extended it from his infinite self, and part of that infinite self is temporarily encased in denser parts of itself in the form of matter. I believe God is present and active in the universe. I speak with him and/or his agents on a regular basis. I think he's still pumping stuff into being in this universe at a constant rate, and that the moment of Creation never ended.

I see the relationship between the Sun and the Earth as a reflection of the relationship between God and his Creation. The Sun transmits power that is absorbed by plants and turned into oxygen and other useful things. The Sun is a finite source, so it's not a completely accurate analogy, but the snapshot of the Sun powering the Earth to offset entropy is a good representation of how I see God's influence on the Universe at large.

When things are requested by magicians, I don't think it comes from the "Universal Bank Account" that has a fixed sum. I think it just manifests out of thin air. It has to come down through the heavens following the chain of manifestation, of course, and by the time it reaches us, it looks like it came through from completely "natural" means, but it still started as an Idea in the Mind of God that manifested on our behalf when it was necessary.

The idea that it's a sacrifice for the universe to provide for us seems to me to be off. It's like we're saying, "God, you did all this, made the heavens and Earth and stars and planets, but now you're at Rest, and you don't do anything anymore." That's a popular belief, and there are a lot of Deists or near-Deists that believe basically that. There are Christian doctrines that teach that God isn't present and active anymore, except through his Holy Spirit as it operates through the human members of the Church. On the seventh day, God rested, and that's where he's been ever since (except for those thirty or so years in the flesh).

I disagree with them too.

I used to debate with a guy named Logan online in a lot of message boards. Those who had to suffer through our debates likely remember them with a shudder. We got evil with each other. It was fun, we managed to maintain mutual respect despite our sometimes vitriolic attacks on one anothers' characters.

He and I had the closed- vs. open-system debate, and there are valid pros and cons to both approaches. I personally see the closed-system magical model as restrictive to magicians. If you think your magic to bring you prosperity is going to leave a family in Indonesia poverty-stricken and homeless, you won't feel it's ethical to do prosperity magic. You can't really do healing rites for people either, because you're taking the healing that would go to someone else and applying it to whomever you love. You can't even pursue enlightenment, because that would be stealing someone else's enlightenment too, right?

When I look at the magical models we have to work with, eventually I see in all of them the point where we reach something akin to the Pleroma, or in kabbalistic terms, the "Ain Soph Aur." Light without limit. It is from this pool of limitless light that all things come and are manifest. If it were a pool of limited light, I could understand the assumption that there's only "so much" that is available for everyone to share, and that the Universe would be sacrificing some of its stuffness on behalf of POS to pay for his car.

But it's not. It's limitless. Infinite. Eternal. The Light is constantly flowing down through the Tree and its spheres, constantly washing through each, taking on characteristics from each and then ultimately manifesting in the patterns and structures we experience in this realm. Yes, there are rules, and there are limits, and there are Natural Laws that all magic has to operate within, but it all starts from an infinite pool.

I've come to use the Emerald Tablet of Hermes as the standard operating procedure for magicians performing the Great Work. We rise to the heights, tap into the Power, and bring it to Earth. Thinking of the pool magicians tap into as a closed system, in my opinion, is opposed to the revelations we have of the nature of the universe within our magical traditions.  Having seen the unlimited Light of God, I am not comfortable at all thinking that we're stuck with what we have on hand to work with.

And again, I'm not disagreeing with POS's approach to paying off his car. I think it's the most responsible use of magic I've seen in a long time, my own practice included. I just think it's also important for us to remember where we come from, and what our potential truly is.


  1. "If that worked, we could produce oil"

    We can: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/11/1125_031125_turkeyoil.html


  2. I think it's possible there are multiple approaches to magic:

    1) there's the approach of using the goetia, the elementals, and spirits from this sphere. I think that, if you do that, you are encountering a closed system. You are asking finite beings to change things, and in so doing they use finite means to accomplish the tasks. Vast, incomprehensible means, but finite none the less.

    2) There's theurgy, where you ask the immortal, limitless God to accomplish something via his agents. In doing so, you are tied to His timeline, and His will being done.

    3) Somewhere in here might fit energy work, where you're re-balancing or adjusting the energy in yourself or someone else. That may or may not be a closed system, depending on what you think the energy source is.

  3. If you pardon the analogy, it's a bit like a game of Tetris... XD

  4. This was a very interesting post I might say. I used to have a very bleak closed system outlook, and I am still in a mode of changin perspectives (over the last few years). I believe you both have your points.

    Still as you say: I agree that internal techniques such as POS is probably the most sensible approach.

  5. I just popped by to say that I just bought the 'Neo Platonic Basics'. I have just begun reading and already have some questions. At least I can say that I have learned something when I am trough.

    Live well and a happy new year on advance.

  6. Wow - this is an excellent post Rufus. I read one the other day, I think it was over on the evocational magic list, about the experiences of one fairly experienced ATR practitioner who was describing the same thing from his and his grandfathers perspective. Both of which seemed to agree with Frater POS's post. That really made me think.

    Now your post brings out the other side and practically solves the issue for me.

    But wait.

    Next, the good Monsignor chimes in and for all intent and purposes settles the issue. At least for me. And yeah, like Inominandum replied to POS -- collectively it seems that together the issue is well covered. Eh - that's what I'm talking about:^)...

    Excellent stuff. Weird universe. All powerful Creator.

    Frater EH'e...

  7. Happy New Year RO. I wish you and your family peace and prosperity in the coming decade!! :)

  8. There are a few comments I'd like to make. The first is that this "closed system" attitude seems to me to be a physicalist (modernist) paradigm that is a psychological artifact of attempts to make majik "scientific" or "rational".

    Second - At one time the only way that one could have a windfall was if they happened to stumble across a treasure, or through military honors (in which they shared in the theft of it from someone else). Hence the attributions of spirits helping to find treasure. Today, as far as that's concerned, with all the lotteries, casinos, OTB and that sort of thing, it may as well be lying in the streets by comparison.

    Third - This leads to the thing that bugs me to no end - the "fudge factors" written into texts by authors who do not really believe that majik works, or have never really experienced a full-frontal manifestation or evocation. Everything from "it won't work unless your karma is right, so get back to the self perfection and suffer a bit" to "the spirits give in their own time - just be patient" - this is BS. If this were the rule, the rich and powerful, the Bushes, Cheneys, the Royal families of Europe and the Mideast, corporate cutthroats and the politicians that serve them, drug lords and so on would all be nice philanthropic folk who deserved their wealth because of their unselfish service to humanity.

    You even find this kind of stuff in commentators on Spare who couldn't get his methods to work for them, yet are self proclaimed experts who try to explain him in their own terms. I think if one finds a system they experience as reliable enough that imagination or psychological disorder can be ruled out, and give 110% to it, it will work. One's limiting beliefs are the only limit to what can be achieved.

    Well, so much for my rant. I needed to get it off my chest as I persist in unmaking the "well respected man about town" society created that I have identified with lo these many years.

  9. Good comment, Fivesight - Have you read the Spider Robinson story of the same name? (sorry about the off-topic, RO, although you could say it's about divination)


Thanks for your comments, your opinions are valued, even if I disagree with them. Please feel free to criticize my ideas and arguments, question my observations, and push back if you disagree.