In the Spiritual Dimension of Music, R.J. Stewart makes the following observation: “The best that can be said for any system is that it is effective in doing what it claims to do and that it leads to its own demolition via the liberation of those who employ it to reach new conclusions, fresh insights, and real inner or outer growth.” In God Emperor of Dune, Frank Herbert makes another point, one that all magicians should consider carefully, when he argues that words distort the ideas they represent by framing those ideas into systems. Systems, while providing routine and a sense of social order, can also create ignorance if people don’t examine the beliefs they adopt when they rely on that system to structure their perceptions of the world.
My approach to magic is based on the concept of process. I don’t really think of it as a system, but I recognize that a process approach can lead to a systematization of a spiritual practice. And the dangers mentioned above are realistic to any system. This is also why I find it useful to encourage experimentation, as such experimentation allows a person to challenge the system s/he is part of, and strike out to create his/her own approach. Experimentation is necessary as not only a creative exercise, but also an exercise in critical thinking. Experimentation, as an exercise in critical thinking, recognizes that no one system has all the answers or liberation for all aspirants. Consequently the creation of a new entire system can be the opportunity presented to explore liberation, but at some point that system will also become dogmatic.
To put it another way, the evolution of magic as a spiritual practice occurs because there are people who are willing to step beyond the systems they originally learned, and move past the religious dogma that sometimes accompanies magical work. Anything a person learns ideally helps the person to eventually move beyond it, and when the person has moved beyond s/he evolves as a person. This isn’t to say that s/he won’t still have use for what was learned, but rather s/he will not let it define their lives or their practice.
When something defines your life to the point that it dictates who you can be, with no room for growth or liberation, it becomes dogma, confining the person to a narrow existence. That confinement can only be combated by recognizing the limitations, and challenging them through the choice to experiment and do something that goes outside the norms espoused by the system a person is in. This consideration is why I take a descriptive approach to magic, as opposed to a prescriptive approach. A prescriptive approach, while initially providing guidance, ultimately confines people with specific rules and limitations, and most often these rules and limitations are inspired by social norms. A descriptive approach provides guidance, but also encourages a person to go in different directions and to test what s/he is learning. There is no set rule or limitation that insists on a particular stand or way of acting.
That’s one reason I’ve focused on experimentation in magic and life. Instead of sticking to a particular tradition or religion I’ve found that genuine liberation is better found through the pursuits of actively exploring the wonders of the universe and discovering what you can do with it. Instead of letting the words of a holy book define my life, I’ve chosen to define my life through my exploration of those wonders. I find that such an approach encourages liberation because any system that is derived is continually questioned in relationship to the experiences a person is having. Such a system is inevitably moved past with the recognition that it served its purpose. Liberation is more important than sticking with the comfort and limitations of a system. It is by testing ourselves and the world we are in that we can find liberation, though it might be fleeting, and thus the work continues!