On the Spirit of the Thing
by George Jackson
People throw the word “spiritual” around all the time, and a large number of us have probably never taken the time to really examine what the word means and how we relate to it. We seem to take for granted that everyone understands the concept at one level or another. I had this driven home to me at the 2001 Spring Mysteries Festival, when someone of the Gardnerian persuasion tried to tell me that doing magick didn’t enhance the spirit. It left me wondering what he thought all of those invocations — a magickal form of merging with a deity — were about if not an attempt to enlarge the understanding of the spirit. I then realized that I was taking a lot for granted, too. So here is my attempt at describing the concept of spirit.
The dictionary defines spirit as the life principle, and the word is derived from the Latin spiritus, meaning breath. This definition is further elaborated on to include the thinking, motivating and feeling part of a person that is sometimes called the soul. There is a tendency to separate this aspect from the physical body, and in some cases to connect it with the supernatural. This result, from my point of view, leads us a bit astray as it does not take into consideration the gestalt (whole greater than the sum of the parts) power that is inherent in a living person. Going back to the original definition, it can be said that any living thing is infused with a spirit. People who practice shamanism take this idea a few steps further, or it might be said they extend the definition of “living” beyond the usual scale of such things. At this point, I’m going to accept the definition of spirit as life force and work from there.
For the most part, a sorcerer’s intent is focused on ordinary reality. The complexity of substance and interaction occurring in this arena is so immense that it is as best very poorly understood. For instance, if you read Time Magazine this past June, you will know that the astrophysicists now believe that the majority of the universe is made up of “dark matter and energy,” the properties of which are pretty much unknown. One of the observable characteristics of ordinary reality is that everything moves, and the vast majority of this movement is not in what we call an orderly fashion. Out of these observations, chaos theory arose in the late 1960s. From this and quantum theory came the metaphysical concept that the universe was primarily chaotic in nature and that order was at best temporary, and for the most part, illusionary. From this observational standpoint, the universe cherishes two principal things: change, and what grows out of it, diversity. This is the benchmark that a chaos-theory sorcerer operates from. Thus, the sorcerer works to harmonize with the waves of probability coursing through the universe and by strength of will fueled by spirit (read life-force) causes shifts in flow.
Ge, Gaea and Gaia all mean Earth. Gaea in Greek mythology is the Earth personified as a goddess, the mother of Uranus and the Titans. In chaos theory, there is a concept called the Gaia Hypothesis, in which the conditions necessary for life are created and maintained by life itself in a self-sustaining process of dynamic feedback. Carrying this into the realm of metaphysics, it could be used as a partial justification for the belief in reincarnation. I’ll admit that my concept of deity lies within the Gaia area. On the popular culture scene, George Lucas brought Gaia, greatly expanded, to the public’s attention as the Force in Star Wars. This was not an accident, as Joseph Campbell was a significant collaborator on the Star Wars script. This concept should not be a surprise coming from Lucas, whose company is named Industrial Light and Magic, and who is recognized by his peers for having a powerful, questing spirit. And so, if you have ever said, “May the Force be with you,” even in jest, you have acknowledged Gaia, the spirit of our planet and perhaps our spiritual source.
Within quantum theory lies the statement that everything is connected to everything else. This is especially true of body, mind and spirit within a person. It has also been said that the body is the temple of the spirit that dwells therein. The body definitely processes outside sources of energy in the forms of food, liquids and other environmental elements that are necessary to sustain both the spirit and the mind. Both the disciplines of Yoga and the Hawaiian practice of Huna recognize this, and further both have some specific breathing exercises to raise power. The word haole in Hawaiian, which has come to mean “outsider,” originally meant “without breath” and referred to a lack of spiritual ability. Max Freedom Long publicized the art of Huna, which he considered a psychospiritual discipline that could be fitted into most religious paradigms. Much of his work concerns the establishing and maintenance of the spiritual three-in-one gestalt (basic self, the subconscious; middle self, the conscious; and high self, the superconscious) that make up a human being. It is good not to underrate the importance of a healthy body in regard to the support of the spirit. Of course, this is a two-way street, and a strong spirit goes a long way toward preserving the body.
Now, what are some of the ways of enhancing the spirit? A lot of these methods can be listed under “accomplishment.” If you set yourself a task and carry it through to a successful conclusion, part of your reward will probably be a spiritual “lift,” a sort of buoyant feeling of achievement. Another method is an appreciation of something one considers beautiful or awesome. The more esoteric routes to enhancement are initiation, illumination and gnosis. Gnosis is “the knowledge that impels action.” In other words, once you know the thing in question, you must act on it.
Within the psychospiritual paradigm, initiation, illumination and gnosis are the three primary methods of enhancement. They are a process. In ordinary reality, we undergo levels of initiation of one sort or another all of the time, and hopefully we learn from them. What we learn in the broad sense can be called a state of illumination. This leaves us with gnosis, which is part of the application, the knowledge that impels action. All of this process can be spiritually enhancing in that it widens our options for accomplishment of something beyond the ordinary. The chaos factor may truly surprise us when it comes to what such accomplishment yields in the long run. For instance, Athens, Greece, became a democracy almost overnight. Democracy had never been practiced on that scale before, as far as we know. Thus was set in place an opportunity for the spirit of the citizens to be expressed in both an individual and collective manner.
As I have mentioned, spiritual enhancement is a process. Most of the time what popular culture calls “spiritual” is connected with a religious paradigm or something that is considered supernatural. From my point of view, our life force is a force of nature and is connected to everything that surrounds us. I went through a major personal initiation event in the early 1970s that firmly set me on the road to becoming a magick user. At the time, I was already experiencing crisis and call (a general dissatisfaction with the spiritual status quo that brings on the need for change), and as the result of a gestalt experience, I experienced initiation and illumination as one continuous series of events that lasted for several minutes. I was superenergized from participating in a circle that had not been grounded. I was alone in a room and asked myself the question, “What’s next?” My subconscious altered, and I received my answers.
This initiation left me with the task of learning gnosis. Gnosis has been defined in several ways, from the state of no-mind, one-pointedness, to understanding the knowledge that impels one to act in a certain way. Like much of what we know, it has to be experienced to really grasp its meaning. Practicing magick gave me the experience that I was seeking and expanded both my personal reality and the energy needed to delve more deeply into it. From this point of view, I feel that I have been spiritually enhanced.
The spirit does have an enemy. The name of this enemy is depression. If this state of mind is not brought on by a biochemical unbalance, it probably stems from a loss of faith in one’s ability to positively interact with one’s environment. This inwardly focused state of negativity constricts the production of life force by the subconscious and in extreme cases can lead to death. For example, during the Korean War many American prisoners of war literally turned their faces to the wall and willed themselves to death. Much was written about this after the war, and some steps were taken to counter the effect, primarily in the form of encouraging prisoners to focus on resistance and escape. There is little doubt that one can’t be upbeat all of the time. There is a neutral status. Depression, however, is contrary to solving problems or maintaining faith in one’s self. Learning to consider obstacles as temporary in nature sure helps the spirit along.
In summation, I consider being spiritual as opening up one’s consciousness and becoming aware of the place we occupy in nature in all of its complexity and diversity. There are probably as many methods for accomplishing this as there are people. How people express their spirituality should always be a matter of personal choice. Our forebears struggled hard to establish this opportunity for personal choice for us, and we should not neglect the right to exercise our options. We pagans are considered by some of the major religions to be heretics. This means we hold views that are not sanctioned by their official church doctrine. The word “heretic” comes from the Greek, and means “able to choose.” Let’s keep up the good work!