The Caduceus

Wandering Among the Worlds

John Opsopaus

i. From time to time Neopagans and other Practitioners of Magic express doubt about whether magic really works, and wonder if anyone can give objective, repeatable evidence of it working. Others express similar doubts about reincarnation, the Gods, repeatability of Tarot readings, and so forth. These important and natural concerns have prompted me to offer my thoughts, which I hope will be helpful.

ij. In Magic, the sort of phenomena we are interested in are mostly spontaneous - the sudden insight, the whisper of the Gods, the significant coincidence, a telepathic contact, the act of creation, the group synergy of the circle. Even though we use Art to create an environment conducive to these phenomena, they are by their nature unique events, growing out of a particular time and place, and out of the people (or animals) producing them. An apparent repetition is no repetition, for these things are unrepeatable; the exact circumstances cannot be reproduced. Science says, in effect, that the unrepeatable is not a subject for science. True enough. But that doesn't mean these things are unimportant.

iij. Science, especially when carried to the extreme of "scientism," denies Existence, denies Being, to the unrepeatable, to the Unique. Indeed, repeatability - in different places and times, and to different observers - is the basis of Scientific Existence. It is all very well to take Scientific Existence to be the only kind of of existence; it's a neat, self-contained World. But scientific eyes are by their nature incapable of seeing the Unique. The Unique nevertheless exists (existere = to emerge), and students of Magic know it is of the greatest relevance.

iv. Jung understood this well. In his forward to the Wilhelm/Baynes translation of the I Ching (p. xxix) he considers whether he should pose a certain question to the I Ching a second time to see if he gets the same answer. He concludes: "To ask the same question a second time would have been tactless and so I did not do it: 'the master speaks but once.'" Naturally, his attitude would be considered unscientific, and so it is - intentionally so. "The heavy-handed pedagogic approach that attempts to fit irrational phenomena into a preconceived rational pattern is anathema to me."

v. To ask the very same question of the Gods a second time, merely for the sake of repetition, and not for greater insight or some other genuine need, is to try the Gods' patience. To perform a divination under "controlled conditions," without proper ritual and mental attitude, is sacrilegious. Is it any wonder that under such circumstances the Gods give misleading answers or no answers at all?

vi. Once you decide to do things scientifically, you have entered the Scientific World, and all that you will see is what exists in that world. To see clearly beyond the Mundane World there is no alternative but to step boldly out of it. Thus, as we see in the famous woodcut in Flammarion's l'Atmosphere Meteorologie Populaire, which shows a man (with his feet still on the Earth) breaking through the heavenly spheres to look upon the Celestial Realm.

vij. If Orpheus - your spirit - is weak, and you decide to look back "just to be sure," your Eurydice - your understanding - slips back from Enlightenment into the gloom of Hades (Haides = a + idein = the Unseen or Unknown, the land of no Enlightenment).

viij. Do not misunderstand me, though. The Scientific World is a very good place to be, and as a practicing scientist I spend more time in it than many people. It is a very comfortable place. There are no supernatural bogeymen in it - only natural horrors: AIDS, cancer, nuclear annihilation, environmental poisoning, mass murderers, etc. etc.

ix. Certainly, there are many Worlds: the Scientific World, the Magic World, the Druid World, the Christian World, the Military World, the Zen World, and so forth. Where should we live? - In none of them. In all of them. - In none, because if we reside exclusively in one World, we subject ourselves to the limitations of that World; we have only one perspective, and we see things from only one side. In all of them, because we can never truly know the merits of a World until we enter it. If we want to see things three-dimensionally, from many sides, then we must be willing to change our perspective, and move wholly to a new position. (We can, of course, get a limited and distorted view of the other sides, as with a mirror, which gives us a limited view of one perspective from another. This is what we do when we look into the Magical World from the Scientific World.)

x. We cannot apply the Laws of Science to the Magic World, nor the Laws of Magic to the Scientific World. The Worlds do not have the same standards of Existence, Coherence, or Truth. This does not mean that they are forever out of touch with each other, and that there is no way they can be compared. We are the ambassadors that tie the Worlds together. We are the travellers that go from one to another and can compare the quality of life in each.

xi. Are there Worlds we should avoid? No doubt. The Nazi World and the World of Jim Jones come to mind. But a visit even to these has its value, as does a mundane visit to Auschwitz or Jonestown, and there is no danger in stepping wholly into these Worlds, so long as we take with us and keep firm hold of the gift that Hermes has given us for travel between the Worlds: the Caduceus, the Sacred Tau, the Magic Shaft of the Shaman - which is our awareness that this is not the only World. For then we will never forget the limitations of the World we are in and take up permanent residence there, no matter what its attractions.

xij. Though we visit Tartarus, we must never drink of Lethe, the Waters of Forgetfulness. For Lethe is also the River of Unmindfulness (Ameles Potamos), which flows round the Cave of Sleep. Unless we are mindful of the plurality of Worlds and of the limitations of them all, we will truly be sleepers, lost forever in the gloom. We should not undertake lightly a visit to Hades, which has never been free of danger, but there is always a way out.

xiij. Am I advocating that we all be metaphysical vagrants, homeless, ever wandering? Though the life of an ontological explorer has its attractions, it would be too trying for most of us. It takes time and effort to find the way into a new World and to become at home there; a period of disorientation is to be expected. Living all of your life in one house can make you parochial, but moving every week is not a lifestyle most of us would choose. So I suggest that, aside from occasional vacations to strange Worlds, we pick our moves carefully, so that at any given time we have an assortment of Worlds in which we are at home and that serve our purposes well. We favor Worlds with a high quality of life.

xiv. How can we choose, if we can't really experience the advantages of a World until we have become a part of it? Here, observations of other people can help. If a World seems to be working for other people - especially people like ourselves - then it may be worth a try. A certain degree of random exploration is no doubt also worthwhile.


The Wise One must wander among the Worlds.
If this be Relativism, make the most of it!

- Apollonius Sophistes (John Opsopaus)

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Last updated: Mon Dec 22 17:19:59 EST 1997