This article continues from part 1 (about the four worlds of the kabbalah) and brings us to the very important skill of being able to distinguish between categories and common category errors.
Here is the diagram again to remind ourselves of the four worlds of the kabbalah. In this article we will look at how confusion over these different worlds frequently leads to category errors: how we can start to apply assumptions, terminologies and rules which are applicable to one world, to the others. This is a recipe for confusion and occasionally for disaster.
As a magickian, or spiritual seeker in any path, being able to recognise category errors is a key critical thinking skill to develop. Once you recognise that the same thing exists on a number of levels, but is different on each level, you are off to a good starting point. Then you need to be able to recognise the difference in how things manifest on different levels. You need to be able to recognise in your own experience, as well as in the material you come across from others, what level they are describing when they are talking about something. Finally you need to be able to recognise when a mistake is being made across levels.
There are a vast number of examples and the subject really deserves a book in itself. Given the constraints of this article, we’ll look at just a few examples here.
We’ll start with that most interesting of subjects, erotic love.
Erotic love exists on all of the four levels, but manifests differently on each one:
- On the material level, love is a strong physical attraction between people. It is an attraction of the looks, the body and the physical sensation. On this level sex is a physical activity. It gives physical pleasure.
- On the psychological level, love is a connection between people of the intellect and the emotions. It is an understanding and a deep feeling. It is an exchange of libidinous energy. Sex is a deep coupling which stimulates and releases profound emotions.
- On the psychic level, love is a connection between people which transcends their current physical manifestations and connects them on an archetypal level. They become gods and/or goddesses, bigger than their earthly selves. Sex is a drawing down and an expressing of these archetypes. In ancient times this was seen as a re-enactment of the process of creation, which sustained that creation.
- On the divine level, love is a realisation that everything is part of the One, and the One is Love itself. That One includes the people involved but also every other person, entity and thing in the universe. Sex is the experience of being One with everything.
All well and good so far. So where can this become a problem? As is obvious to most people, if we recognise only the material, we miss out on the pleasures of the other levels. As human beings, we are designed to operate on all four levels so we feel a loss if we only work on one. If we only recognise the material and are cut off from other levels, we are forced, by our rejection of anything higher, to stay on the merely material. We will never find what we truly want and need. In this case, we often try to get something deeper by changing positions or partners, without realising that what we need is not more of the same but greater depth. We make a category error by not recognising that what we are looking for exists on a different level to the material.
None of this I’m sure is a surprise to anyone – religions have been telling us for millennia that sex on a merely physical level is not ultimately satisfying. What might be more surprising is that the problem also is just as bad the other way around. Understanding things on a merely spiritual level and missing out the physical is also deeply problematic.
It is a mistake to apply the rules of the spiritual world to the physical world. To imagine that every sexual encounter on the physical level has a reality on the level of the spirit is a nice and high-minded idea, but to insist that it must have is wrong. It is common for religions to elevate the spiritual aspects of erotic love whilst denigrating the physical; which is not only a category error but also a very sad process which can quickly become abusive. When we fail to give proper due to each dimension, we can become unbalanced and craziness can start to creep in. Yes, physical love is, as religions teach us, an expression of the relationship that God has with creation; but is nonetheless a physical act between people which stands on its own merits and has a completely valid role in itself. So there is no need to feel a spiritual level of being One in each sexual encounter.
Sometimes, however, a sexual encounter will be like this. At times we feel like we are one being, two hearts that beat as one. This is when an encounter is experienced on the spiritual level since it is true that we are, spiritually, one. But physically we are two. This is why at other times we feel like two very distinct beings. This can lead to jarring moments: that moment when we are feeling so close that we are just One; and then she discovers that he doesn’t like quinoa, and he finds out that she has no interest in model trains. Suddenly the Oneness is shattered and individuated, and it can feel like a challenge to the relationship, a mere illusion fostered by sex and lingering maternal transference. But do not despair – in fact both are true, at the same time, but in different ways. We are indeed One, and we are indeed two – on different levels. The spiritual world is the dimension of oneness and synthesis, and the physical world is the dimension of diversity and differentiation.
Let us take another example: knowledge and truth.
- On the material level, knowledge is about facts. Solid facts which can be proved or disproved. Once they are proved (or disproved) they are real facts, until the time when other facts come in to challenge that. Then our knowledge adjusts, and we have a new set of real facts. So knowledge is subject to the scientific method: it has to be provable, repeatable and consistent. It has to work under laboratory conditions. It is equally available to everyone.
- On the psychological level, knowledge is about feelings and intuitions. Proof that this knowledge is true comes from an inner awareness of its deep truth. If we are convinced of this inner truth, it informs our decisions and we operate accordingly.
- On the psychic level, knowledge is vague, contradictory and rarely repeatable. Even under the same conditions, it will appear differently to different people, or not appear at all. It is impossible to pin down, impossible to define and highly inconsistent. However, we do experience it as true.
- On the spiritual level, knowledge is just knowing. It has little content – it just is. Yet it is experienced as deeply true.
Thus the experience of ‘knowing’ is different on each level. As spiritual travellers will know, the more you become aware of and sensitive to the difference of how truth feels on different levels, the more you know what it is like. It cannot be taught and learnt in the same way on all levels.
Now let us look at common category errors about knowledge. The most obvious one is the application of material criteria to the other categories. So we are commonly asked to provide scientific evidence for psychic phenomena. Unless it can be ‘scientifically’ proven and repeated in a laboratory, it doesn’t exist. But throughout history, and in the present, some form of psychic phenomena has been experienced by most people. Most people, if you ask them, will give an account of some inexplicable experience. Seeing a ghost, feeling a sensation, knowing something before it happens – all these and more are examples of psychic phenomena. But they are not amenable to ‘scientific’ proof, and laboratories have yet to document any of these things. Does that mean that they are all misperceptions, lies and indigestion? Many could be, but not all. If we investigate them with the tools of their own category, rather than the tools of a different one, we get proof enough.
On the other hand, we can make the reverse mistake of using psychic criteria on material knowledge. Modern science, we hear, refuses to accept the existence of ghosts because they do not fit into its method. That means, therefore, that the scientific method is unsound and whatever such scientists say, even about the material world, should not be believed. This is, of course, absurd. Anti-science plays no part in Magickal thinking, even if science does not recognise Magick.
For some people, even the psychological world seems to them like a tale of fairies and ghosts. When they demand a ‘scientific’ proof of the physical location of emotions, we are very clear that they are committing serious category errors. Insisting on using merely physical criteria to assess the psychological is profoundly unhelpful.
If we look at knowledge of the spiritual, it is clear that physical means to assess it are going to be inadequate. If ‘the true Dao cannot be spoken of in words’, then the laboratory is going to fail as well. But what about the reverse? If we take spiritual truths, and then insist upon applying them literally, we run into trouble. St Paul suggests that being dedicated to the role of an apostle means that he has put aside marriage in order to keep his concentration. Fair enough, for him, if he feels that this is his path. But if we take this to mean that all priests must live celibate lives, then we make not only a category error but we are asking for serious negative consequences. And few spiritually minded people would argue with the idea that it is good to open one’s heart to the life-giving rays of the sun, but if, like the Aztecs, they took this literally, this would be a disastrous category error.
Whilst on the subject of knowledge, it is not unusual to find people in our field bemoaning the fact that academia does not take Magick and the occult seriously. But here again we find common category errors. Academic research can add usefully to a Magickian’s understanding of Magick, in areas such as the historical, cultural and social conditions under which Magickal ideas and practices emerged. But this is not Magick. The occult is literally that: material which is hidden. Occult material often hides in plain sight, such as in the text of the bible or the architecture of a cathedral. Academic information is useful, but will never tell us anything useful about the Magickal aspects of such material. I have great respect, for example, for Gershom Sholem and his work on the origins of the kabbalah; but he is not a kabbalist and so cannot tell me about how kabbalah can be a tool for personal and spiritual transformation. There are many biographies about the Golden Dawn and its members, and they are interesting and informative; but they cannot tell me about the effectiveness of the Order’s Magick unless they themselves are able to accept the reality of Magick and be able to assess it.
One final example: something that I might call spiritual pacifism.
Now, I have a lot of respect for pacifism, although I don’t share this view myself. But there is this argument: in the divine realm we are all part of the One – all human beings are, essentially, part of the divine Unity. So far so good. But this argument is then taken to mean that we should not fight against each other, seek recompense or justice, or even defend ourselves, on the physical level; because that would be like attacking oneself. This is a category error that misapplies the rules of the spiritual world to the physical and it can have serious consequences. Pacifism is a choice that is made on the physical level, and therefore needs physical explanations. It is wrong to apply spiritual principles to a material and physical situation. By all means be aware of them, and moderate our aggression if possible; but a better way of understanding categories would be to say ‘trust in the Lord and keep your powder dry’.
Category errors are constant challenges to the Magickian, because the material we are working with is so elusive and difficult to pin down anyway. This is why there is a need for high level Magickal critical thinking skills in order to guard against these errors and in this article I have merely scratched the surface of this important area. It is for this reason that in M:.N:.O:.M:.T:. we not only teach about the theory and practice of Magick, we put a lot of emphasis on developing sound critical thinking skills.