Clinic essay-header

Magic and Awakening: Beyond Good and Evil

by Jay Kinney

Introduction to Magic: Rituals and Practical Techniques for the Magus By Julius Evola and the UR Group [Inner Traditions]

Magic (or Magick, as it is sometimes spelled, in order to distinguish it from stage magic) is a word fraught with dubious connotations. It summons up images of robed figures, surrounded by clouds of incense, standing within magical circles, and conjuring demons to do their bidding. Even in the magical system that has achieved widest renown, that of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, magic is associated with complex Qabbalistic rituals, Egyptian god forms, and arcane tools and talismans. Such things are sure to send the average good citizen scurrying in the opposite direction, as quickly as possible. Even for those who are inclined toward the esoteric and spiritual, magic remains the preserve of a few self-chosen magi who have a strong attraction to the arcane.

Still, there are no lack of books presenting magical systems. Dion Fortune, W.E. Butler, Aleister Crowley, Israel Regardie, William Grey, Franz Bardon, David Griffin, and others have authored numerous tomes to whose teachings one could easily devote a lifetime. Why, then, should we pay any attention to yet another book called Introduction to Magic? The answer is that this new work in hand is unlike any other book on magic previously published, as difficult as that may be to believe.

Julius Evola, the principal contributor to Introduction to Magic, is a figure of some controversy within esoteric circles. Born in 1898, the vital years of his twenties and thirties coincided with Fascism’s reign in Italy, and Evola’s stance toward Fascism — although critical and adversarial at times — was sufficiently positive to make him persona non grata in liberal European circles. However, as tempting as it may be to dismiss past historical figures according to present value judgments, Evola deserves to be judged on his own terms, in his own time. With that in mind, let us take a closer look at the magical system put forth in Introduction to Magic.

Introduction to Magic is the first of three volumes collecting articles from the Italian esoteric journal, UR, published between 1927 and 1929. Evola was the journal’s foremost author, but he was joined by prominent figures in the Italian esoteric scene, such as Arturo Reghini, Giulio Parese and Ercole Quadrelli. All of UR’s writers published under pseudonyms, for the stated reason that “their individual selves count for nothing, because everything valid they can offer now is not of their own creation or devising, but instead reflects a collective and objective teaching.”(1) This harks back to such seminal works as the Rosicrucian Manifestoes, or the more recent Meditations on the Tarot, whose authors chose anonymity so as not to distract from the message of their texts.

The message of the UR group was as follows: there is a capacity inherent in Man to raise consciousness above the call of the body and the distractions of the mind; a capacity that can lead to an immortal awareness. The means to this awareness is through a rigorous discipline wherein the transitory ego is shed, and the individual consciousness is wedded to the Eternal. In so doing, one passes beyond the conventional notions of Good and Evil, to a place where, in Gustav Meyrink’s words, only “truth” and “falsehood” exist. To know this is not a matter of intellectual knowledge, but of spiritual experience, i.e. of gnosis.

Introduction to Magic doesn’t merely describe this system, but offers meditative techniques that can lead to the concrete acquisition of the consciousness it describes. In so doing, accounts are offered of what one will encounter — accounts that have the strong ring of truth. In other words, the UR group was sharing knowledge based on their own experience, not just generalizations or suppositions. And here we approach the core of the UR group’s unique approach, which raises important questions.

Most other magical systems presuppose an “other”, be it God or gods and goddesses, to which the magus pays homage or, at least, subordinates his operations. The tendency of the ego to usurp the expanding consciousness, is conventionally kept in check by the reminder of the ego’s diminutive stature in relation to the Divine.

The UR approach de-emphasizes such “others,” focusing instead on the transcendence of the ego by a greater impersonal Self which may itself become Divine. This admittedly dangerous operation requires a resoluteness of will that cannot be abandoned. As “Abraxas” (Quadrelli) notes: “Once you have begun, you must go all the way, since an interruption leads to a dreadful reaction, with the opposite result. You can easily understand why: at every step you take, an increasingly higher quantity of swirling energy is arrested and pushed upstream; having been excited and provoked, it is filled with tension. As soon as you give up, it will come crashing down upon you and sweep you away.”(2)

Obviously, this is an approach that will appeal to very few. And the UR group’s philosophy assumed as much. Quadrelli described the difference between the vast majority of mankind and the initiated few who followed such a path: “On this side are ignorant people, lacking Knowledge, pale, passive, intoxicated, whose lives are still outside and on this side of the Waters. On the other shore you will find virile men, heroic souls, awakened to disgust, to revolt, to the Great Awakening; having left one shore behind, they dare face the current and the undertow, being led by their ever more firm, unshakable will. Once there, they are known as ‘Survivors of the Water,’ ‘Walkers on the Waters,’ the ‘Holy Race of the Free,’ ‘The Conquerors,’ ‘The Lords of Life and Salvation,’ ‘The Radiant Ones.’ They are the ‘Dragon slayers,’ the ‘Dominators of the Bull,’ ‘Consecrated to the Sun,’ those who have been transformed through Ammon’s power and Wisdom.”(3)

In defining such a gap between the many and the few, the UR group implied a spiritual hierarchy that Evola was to elsewhere define explicitly. Taking his lead from Hinduism, Evola affirmed the value of a traditional caste system, (typically composed of the castes of Priest-ruler, aristocratic warrior, merchant, and worker). Society should be ruled by those of the highest spiritual attainment, with all others finding their proper places in the social hierarchy. Such sentiments stand in stark contrast to the modern conception of democracy, which assumes the right of every individual to an equal voice in the direction of society.

Evola was still working out these ideas at the time of the UR group project, and his increasingly uncompromising defense of “Tradition” was one factor in the group’s fragmentation after only 3 or 4 years of collaboration.

* * *

The best known exponent of ritual magic, Aleister Crowley, defined magic as “the Science and Art of causing Change to occur in conformity with Will.”(4) Dion Fortune revised this definition to that of “causing changes in consciousness at will.”(5) The object of all magic, according to Crowley, is “the uniting of the Microcosm with the Macrocosm.” Stated another way, “the Great Work is the raising of the whole man in perfect balance to the power of Infinity.”(6) While the UR Group would not disagree with this objective, their means to achieving it stood apart from that of Crowley, Fortune, and most other magicians.

Most Western Magic is based on the coupling of Hermeticism and the Qaballa. Hermeticism, with its doctrines of the four elements (earth, wind, water, and fire), and of correspondences between “above” and “below” (i.e. the Macrocosm and the Microcosm), became systematized in the art of Alchemy. Qaballa (or Kabbalah) was the mystical tradition within Judaism, which contributed the concepts of four Worlds, a series of Divine emanations arranged in the glyph of the Tree of Life, and a hierarchy of Divine Names, Angellic intelligences, and so on, with which the Qaballist might interact.

The magic of the UR Group, however, is wholly Hermetic. There would seem to be two reasons for this. First, the leading UR members, particularly Evola and Reghini, were proponents of a return to Roman and Greek tradition. Evola considered “Hermetico-alchemical knowledge” to be “the most direct and legitimate link to the unique, primordial Tradition.”(7) The preoccupations and values of Judaism and Christianity run perpendicular to pagan values of heroism, strength, and honor.

Second, in its stated goal of self-Deification, the UR teachings had little use for the concept of Deity, beyond that of a potential within certain favored individuals. The UR work gives high value to Transcendence, but it is the transcendence of the initiate over the pull of earthly bonds, of the supra-human over the merely human. Thus the UR teachings have far more in common with Nietzsche or with Buddhism, than with the Judaeo-Christian religions with their subordination before an external God.

Nevertheless, the UR group didn’t narrow its cosmology to the sort of psychological reductionism that sees God or the gods as symbolic figures thrown up by the Collective Unconscious or as mere personifications of human capacities. Various essays in Introduction to Magic refer to Beings, entities, and forces that the Magus may encounter along the path. But these are conceptualized as manifestations of two polarizing tendencies within the Cosmos: non-human forces that lead either to a degenerative Chaos or to a higher Order. The initiate, according to the UR group, must distinguish between the two and align himself only with energies and intelligences leading toward the higher Self.

While Evola and the UR group placed themselves on the side of Order and high spiritual aspirations, their goal of human Deification led them to see conventional mystical notions, such as “merging with the One” or submission of the Ego to God, as manifestations of a downward pull leading the individual away from his ascent to the Divine. In one essay, Evola appropriates René Guénon’s concept of the “counter-initiation” in characterizing Theosophy, Spiritualism, and other “sentimental” movements as “Satanic” impulses.

This is highly ironic in that the UR perspective has more than a passing resemblance to the so-called Satanism of the contemporary Temple of Set. According to Stephen E. Flowers, “the ultimate aim of Setian philosophy is an active, aware and potent state of relative immortality for the isolate, individual psyche. This is achieved through a system of magic…”(8) This is not the time or place to enter into a discussion of whether the Setian definition of the “individual psyche,” has more in common with the accepted notion of the ego or with the UR group’s divinized Self. Suffice it to say that both systems aim at the willed immortality of the initiate, independent of the body, and in contradistinction to the “right-hand path” of mainstream religion or mysticism.

The perspective put forth in Introduction to Magic, and by Evola in his other writings, raises the question of whether gnosis, (or awakening or liberation, as it is usually referred to in the book) only occurs within the familiar framework of morality. Most mystical and esoteric paths counsel a fidelity to the moral values of the religions of which they are expressions. The saints or mystics who are the exemplars of such paths are generally praised for their piety, compassion, and self-sacrifice; the implication being that spiritual awareness goes hand in hand with “goodness.” The Buddhist figure of the Bodhisatva, who vows to continue to incarnate until all beings have been liberated, as well as the figure of Jesus Christ, who Christian dogma tells us “died for our sins,” are the accepted models for earnest spiritual seekers.

Evola and the UR group fly in the face of such norms. Their magical system makes almost no mention of how a would-be magus should comport himself towards others. There are no exhortations to live for the sake of others or to help those who are less advantaged. There are only repeated statements of the need for courage, steadfastness, clear vision, and singleness of purpose on the magical path. Time and again, the reader is reminded of the relativity of “Good and Evil” from the vantage point of the accomplished initiate. At best, the UR system might be characterized as morally neutral, at least by conventional standards.

Yet it is clear from the authority of the book’s instructions, and the first-person accounts that are included, that the members of the UR group achieved heights of consciousness that bear the mark of gnosis. Here was a group of Italian esotericists whose loyalties lay with ancient Rome, who were associated with the extreme Right, and who considered the majority of the human race to be asleep and worthy only of being led by an enlightened few. Could it be that they developed a potent system for the advancement of spiritual awareness that works? This is the challenge that Introduction to Magic raises for its readers and which each reader will have to answer for himself.

(1) Preface to Introduction to Magic, p. xxv.

(2) Abraxas (Quadrelli) in Introduction to Magic, p. 20.

(3) Abraxas (Quadrelli) in Introduction to Magic, p. 19.

(4) Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice, p. xii.

(5) Dion Fortune, quoted by W.E. Butler in Magic, Its Ritual, Power and Purpose, p. 12.

(6) Aleister Crowley, Magick in Theory and Practice, p. 6.

(7) Julius Evola, The Hermetic Tradition, p. xvii.

(8) Stephen E. Flowers, Lords of the Left-Hand Path, p. 241.

© 2001 by Jay Kinney

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