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Book Review: Naturalistic Occultism

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#1 Academus- the Gray


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Posted 02 October 2009 - 09:50 AM

Naturalistic Occultism
by IAO131, published in 2009
Lulu Press

Naturalistic Occultism is defined by the author as, "the attempt to understand occultism without the positing of anything supernatural or even found outside of normal social and natural sciences like psychology and neurology. It is the attempt to cut superstitious beliefs and acts away from the practice of occultism and ceremonial magick with a critical and pragmatic eye." The author does assume that the reader has some prior knowledge of ceremonial magick, or certain discussions would be unclear.

IAO131 perceives magick and the occult with a strong bent toward scientific curiosity, a tendency to attribute most occult or magickal phenomena to psychologically subjective perceptions, and a tendency to consider that many, if not most mages exhibit confirmation bias--remembering their apparent successes, and forgetting their numerous failures. Yet he approves of the occult methodologies as being helpful to the personal development and self-actualization of the individual mage--essentially viewing magick as a self-help program. IAO131 prefers Dion Fortune's definition of magick (a change in consciousness) over Crowley's. He goes on to separate subjective results (changes in the internal organization of the mind) and objective results (changes in the physical world), and while claiming that the majority of magickal rituals produce subjective results, he does not entirely dispute the possibility of objective results in the real world. Yet it is clear that his view is more similar to a self-help program, than a process of changing external realities.

An occultist discussing occult procedures and rituals without reference to occult sources, such as gods, demons, spirits, "subtle energies" and so on, almost seems like shooting yourself in the foot--taking all of the occult things, the hidden, esoteric and mysterious things out of the occult discussion. However, IAO131 does a very good job of taking the mystery out these phenomena, describing the techniques in terms of well-known psychological phenomena, and some of the anatomical structures and functions of the nervous system. Personally, I would have taken more space-time providing somewhat more detail on some of the anatomy and physiology, but then, I'm a biologist, and that's my thing. For example, I would have included some diagrams of the brain, and provided more description of the parietal cortex and the temporo-parietal junction, and vestibular information, because it is not likely that the public at large would comprehend these terms, and how they might be related to the subject matter. I would also have included a glossary as an appendix.

I found his exposé of the general uselessness of divination and gematria (Chapters 3 and 4, respectively) to be refreshing, even though he accepts the possibility that those techniques may reveal something of the subconscious machinations of the user, and in that sense, may by of value, again, as part of a self-help program. In the chapter on why magick seems to work (Chapter 5), he again uses confirmation bias as an explanation for why mages believe their rituals have produced positive results.

IAO131 spent a good deal of space-time finding support in quotations from the works of Aleister Crowley, who founded the Thelema movement, and it is quite interesting that the man had such insights into the workings of the human mind, considering the times in which he lived. (Those were the early days of the development of psychology as a science, and comparatively little was known of the mind, or of the structure and function of the brain.) But Crowley seems to have developed a fair amount of psychological knowledge, probably from his experimental manipulations of his peers. IAO131 also provided some useful references to other relevant materials from books, as well as papers that can be found online, and I intend to check out many of those.

While not a speed reader, I read through the entire text (95 pages + covers) in the course of a single Saturday afternoon, enthralled by the author's thoroughness and insight. Overall, I find Naturalistic Occultism to be a valuable book for the manner in which it approaches occultism, and in terms of concepts, techniques, and referent source materials, and consider it an excellent addition to my library! (Yeah, it was well worth the cost!)

-- Academus, the Gray

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