Social Responsibility and Magic

Posted on January 22, 2009
Filed Under Culture, identity, Magic, mystical journeys, occult culture, social practice, Social Responsibility, Taylor Ellwood | 18 Comments

I’ve previously posted on here about magic as a social practice, but I’ve decided to expand on that further by examining the concept of social responsibility and whether magic has any role in it, or not. As far as I can tell this is not a question which has really been asked in occultism, beyond the Ethics of Thelema by Gerald Del Campo, which ultimately focuses on a religion and its approach to ethics.

Given that I don’t consider my practice of magic to be a religion, I’m not interested in approaching this argument in context to what a central figure wrote. Del Campo’s discussion inevitably has to revolve around Crowley because he is the central figure of Thelema, but such a narrow focus ultimately doesn’t examine magic and its relationship to social responsibility (nor, to be fair to Gerald, was that necessarily his intent).

The other reason I’m not interested in approaching this issue from a religious angle is that all too often moral and ethical authority is placed in the hands of some cosmic being, as opposed to residing in the hands of ourselves. By placing such authority in the hands of a deity that may or may not care about what happens, we abdicate our responsibilities to ourselves and each other, or worse come up with ways to conveniently invoke the name of the deity while flogging our personal values and beliefs on other people. The Far Right Conservative Christians are an example of what happens when people choose to conveniently displace any sense of personal responsibility into the hands of a deity while promoting what is ultimately a hateful and destructive agenda in the name of religion. It is harder, but much more important to place the responsibility of how we treat each other and this planet in our own hands.

I suppose one could argue that the ethics of magic is examined in the Wiccan rede, but I’ve never found that to be entirely satisfactory either and beyond stating that one shouldn’t harm others in acts of magic, it doesn’t seem to deal with the concept of social responsibility at all. Then again, I haven’t even defined social responsibility, so let’s focus on that for a bit.

I recently finished reading the Analects by Confucius and have just started
reading The Mencius. Something which really impressed me about what I read is the concept of social responsibility toward your fellow person and indeed the overall society one lives in. Confucius calls social responsibility benevolence, but I’m going to refer to it as social responsibility. In the works I’ve read social responsibility involves having an obligation your family first and formost and from there other people who are connected to you. The more connected people are to you, the more obligation is involved. This sense of obligation also applies to statecraft in the sense that one has an obligation to be involved in statescraft.

I don’t entirely agree with the Confucian model of social responsibility because it can be fairly elitist, but I do recognize one important aspect of it, which is the focus on taking care of the people you are connected to. However, I also see the possibility for some extensions in other directions.

The concept of social responsibility is something I’ve been thinking about and trying to act upon in my personal choices for quite a while. I think of social responsibility as a recognition that the welfare of the community is equally as important as the welfare of the individual, if not more so, for the simple fact that an individual has a much harder time living and surviving alone than if s/he has a community to draw upon (and also resources to offer the community). In other words, it is important that the person recognizes that s/he needs to be an active participant in the community s/he is a part of in order for both the community and the person to flourish.

An additional layer of social responsibility is the recognition that each person must be a responsible steward of this planet. This involves more than just recycling and cutting down on one’s carbon imprint. It involves recognizing that the planet is a living being in its own right and we live in a symbiotic relationship with this planet as well as with all the other life forms existing in it. It involves making an active effort to connect with the land, similar as you would with the community you are a part of. Some of starhawk’s work and the tradition of Reclaiming focuses on environmental work and one’s obligation to the environment, and that can be a useful jumping off point for exploring environmental action and magic.

Part of what has motivated me to question the occult culture (and magic) and its significance or lack thereof in contemporary society and culture is that I’ve rarely felt that my spiritual practice has actually connected me to the people around me. It has been useful in getting me results, but it seems that the focus in Western Magic, at least, is primarily a me-ist focus…what can I get for myself, as opposed to what can I give of myself. While I certainly appreciate the effectiveness of results magic in terms of making some situations in my life easier to deal with, I’ve also, especially over the last five or so years, questioned how magic can be integrated into society, and whether magic can be incorporated into society as a method and practice of social responsibility.

The magical activity I’ve observed as having aspects of social responsibility  has inevitably focused on using magic to attack corporations or subversively undermine values of society that the magician doesn’t agree with. I certainly think subversive magic has it’s place and that utilizing magic in regards to protests of corporations or unjust wars is of value, but what stands out to me about those activities is that they seem mostly destructive and of course focused on the existing archetype of the magician as a rebel. I have not observed any constructive focus or practical application of magic as a force for social responsibility and the closest archetype I can find that might involve a positive role is that of the Shaman serving his/her community.

I think it is vitally important to determine if magic as a methodology can be used to promote social responsibility to ourselves, and to others…not a religion, but instead as a dialogue for how our interactions with spirit mesh with our interactions with the everyday realities of this world and with how we treat each other.

One direction to explore is the path of using internal work to cultivate an increased conscious awareness of one’s actions and the effect those actions have on not just the self, but other people, and also the other lifeforms we are symbiotically connected to. While I don’t believe that internal work can solve all of our problems, I will note that an increased awareness also leads to an increased focus on being socially responsible in one’s actions and words. It certainly has for me…as five years ago I generally only cared about myself and how anything anyone did benefited me. Internal work is not just about becoming spiritually liberated or psychologically sound of mine. It is about recognizing the profound connection we have to each other and to all living things and the decision to step up and become actively responsible in how we choose to interact with all those living things. It is not merely a healing of childhood wounds, but an awareness that for true healing to occur, it cannot be limited to just the self, but must be extended through actions and words to what is around us.

But magic as a form of social responsibility must be taken further than just internal work. We need to ask how it can be applied practically to the world around us. Do we do a ritual to heal the Earth and if so what does that practically mean? How does that ritual change our consciousness and does that change only last while we do the ritual? How do we take magic and change the focus from me to we?

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I finished reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron. Although I’ve reviewed it before, I’ve never reviewed it on here, so below is a new review, fresh off from re-reading it.

This is a book that will always challenge you and cause you to discover something new about yourself each time you read it. Having read it a second time, I found myself realizing new lessons which spoke to the heart and soul of my current situation and have no doubt that this book will be relevant again down the line for other situations. This isn’t a book which offers concrete meditation techniques, but rather offers perspectives and reflection for you to consider as you meditate and indeed navigate everyday life.

5 out of 5 meditators

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