Language, Magick & Neurolinguistics

This article explores the relationships between language and magick, and uses concepts derived from neuro-linguistic programming to bring into focus the core elements of magickal training.

Introduction: What is Language, and What isn’t?

Some dualisms are actually useful, and considering them leads us deep into magick. One such complementary dyad is that of biogram and logogram. The biogram is seen as the operation of the entire genetic potential, the whole genome, of the individual or, on a wider scale, the gene-pool of the whole human race. This includes flesh, desires, atavistic levels; in short, everything that Austin Osman Spare might have implied by the definition of Zos as ‘the body considered as a whole’. It appears that the biogram contains the needs for food, shelter, sex, companionship and some form of ecstasis.

On the other hand, the logogram contains the whole gamut of symbolic systems that humans use—language in all its forms, from the abstractions of mathematics through spoken and written word, semaphore, the structured visual and audial imagery of painting, TV, music, to symbolic postures and hand gestures and everything in between. A magician can be viewed as someone who seeks to strengthen, liberate, feed, indulge and enjoy the biogrammatic forces through transforming his or her portion of the logogram, although it might be pointed out that this definition is broad enough to take in anyone who succeeds in generating sane (functional) behaviour out of the logogrammatic mess of mass culture.

The distinction between biogram and logogram gets blurred when we consider our appetite for ecstasis, or what is usually called the ‘drive to transcendence’. This whole issue is dominated and confused by religious/political exploitations of our fears of death and social ostracism. This exploitation takes the form of repressive dogmas built deep into the logogram in the course of the socialization process, along with their related reward/punishment patterns. The function of these elements is the achievement of social conformity via co-option of the ‘transcendence drives’. This pollution of the weirdest aspect of the biogram has the effect that many magicians deny the existence of any ‘drive to transcendence’. This is not surprising, considering that ‘transcendence’ usually (and wrongly) implies escape from the world of the senses—indeed, escape from biogrammatic realities into the cloud-cuckoo lands of religion or historical determinism.

This is basically the position of Freudians, who identify transcendence with mere escapism, regression to the oceanic consciousness of the womb. While this is valid as a critique of religion and body-denying mysticism, it has to be borne in mind that the outcome for the Freudian process is the return of the individual to the ‘ordinary misery of life’. The more sophisticated views of the postmodern psychonaut assert that there is a whole spectrum of eigenstates available to us. In this view, the socially-sanctioned formula of ‘ordinary misery’ is merely one rather sad example of institutionalized disappointment and hedonic dysfunction. Let’s face it: either we are here to experience ecstasy in as many manifestations as we can handle, or we’re wasting our time.

To look at civilization so far, it’s easy to get the impression that the logogram has won a decisive victory over the biogram. The contents of the logogram, under the influence of the slave-religions, have been severely anti-hedonistic and anti-bioaesthetic, crippling the ecstatic capacities of all but a few strong individuals.

There is no easy solution to this mix-up, and I believe there is a good reason for that: human consciousness is, by its nature, incomplete, provisional. Our atavistic prehistory in the stream of organic evolution provides us with the biogrammatic constants of hunger, sex, the search for shelter, and the more primitive forms of reproductive bonding. As soon as we start to construct more complex social forms, we need language. It may even be true to say that the evolution of language and the evolution of society go hand in hand. In any case, as soon as we start consciously defining and negotiating our relationships with each other and the world, we transform ourselves. Therefore, language is the prime medium of transformation; the logogram is the history of our past transformations, and a set of levers which we must use to achieve the next ones. Awareness of the inevitable link between language and magick is recapitulated in numerous myth cycles—Hermes was the Messenger as well as god of magick; Odhinn gained the runes, bringing the core of the mysteries into focus through a sophisticated system of semiotics.

Structures of Magick

Certain themes are common to all effective systems of magick. These core elements have also been recognized in one of magick’s postmodern descendants—Neuro-Linguistic Programming or NLP. NLP has been described as ‘an attitude and methodology which leaves behind it a trail of techniques’. It is the techniques that NLP is best known for; the ’10 Minute Phobia Cure’, and the Pacing and Leading techniques that are taught to salespeople are (in)famous, and tend to give the impression that all NLP is is a set of techniques for doing a few tricks with the mind. This is not the case: NLP is essentially about finding out how people who are exceptionally good at something actually do it, including the parts that they may not have conscious access too. In other words, the practitioner finds a precise role-model for the skill he or she wants.

To illustrate this, imagine you want to become better at, say, archery. The most obvious route would be to find a truly excellent archer, the best you can find, and get him to teach you. Now, your master archer will only be able to transmit to you what he knows he does when he shoots an arrow. Unless he is also an exceptionally sophisticated teacher, this will consist only of the conscious part of his skill. Under his tuition, you will no doubt progress to a much higher level of skill, but it is unlikely that you will achieve his own level unless you also absorb the unconscious strategies that hone his technique to a level of brilliance. The elicitation of these strategies comprises the core NLP technique of modelling.

Some of these strategies may appear initially to have nothing to do with the skill of archery; for instance, you may find that you have imitated his stance, his breathing, his sighting… and still you miss something. By talking to him, however, you may find that he performs a particular visualization, or hears a particular voice in his head just before he releases the arrow. At an even more internal level, you may discover that he has a particular belief or set of beliefs about his archery skill. You may even find that he has beliefs about life in general, powerful generalizations that mark the difference between you and him, and which facilitate his excellence. In any case, the model is complete when you are able not only to achieve his level of excellence, but able to communicate to others the internal processes that can take a third party to a new level of proficiency.

What is it that is being studied here? In the most general sense, it is the internal language of the person being modelled. The phrase ‘Neuro-Linguistic Programming’ reflects discoveries of how the brain actually represents information—in other words, the internal language of consciousness. Magicians have been ‘programming’ in this sense throughout the history of magick, and many of the concepts and structures of magick have been rediscovered by NLP modellers. Some of these are:-

Using Willed Imagination

Magick is often seen as a linking of imagination, will and desire towards a single aim. Much of basic magick consists of the controlled daydreams of visualization and audialization (and to a lesser extent the use of imagined kinaesthesia and smell). Anybody who has tried this a few times will realise that it works, if the focus is strong enough. Much NLP work also relies heavily on imagined situations, although usually for effects on the self. (NLP practitioners will seldom admit (at least in public) that they are trying to affect consensus reality!) The point is, your brain cannot tell the difference between the ‘real’ situation and the visualized/audialized one, and responds accordingly.

Try this exercise: remember an emotionally-loaded situation that is past and done, and check you reactions to it. Better still, evoke one of your obsessions, a concept you can get really emotional about—for instance: scroungers, poverty, Country and Western music, or whatever really rattles your cage. Get really worked up about it. Now relax and look at what you have done: you have taken some key images, sounds and words, and created a set of feelings which are indistinguishable from the feelings you would have got if you were standing in front of a real sample of your obsession. In fact, even when you are in a ‘real’ situation, you are often dealing with it through the lens of previous remembered experience. In other words, you aren’t there at all. Experiment with evoking the whole range of emotions—start off with a basic 6 or 8—lust, tenderness, anger… proceed to more complex ones, like gratitude or jealousy… experiment with different modes of each one. Remember to banish! This is—or should be—absolutely central to basic magickal training. If you cannot achieve a resourceful/useful emotional state at will, you are always vulnerable to enemies and manipulators. That is one of the differences between a magician and a non-magician.

The ability to change your state of consciousness via imagination takes us on to the next point:-

Correspondences and Anchoring

Correspondences are often used by magicians to attain repeatable states of consciousness. Correspondences work by conditioned reflex linking the desired state to a symbol at a pre-conscious level. For instance, a magician may associate personal dynamism and assertiveness to Mars, via repeated work with the colour red, iron, blood, and the smell of leather. Every time these symbols are used deliberately, the Martial state is evoked. In NLP this type of process is known as Anchoring, and it appears virtually everywhere—consider the power of a perfume or other unusual aroma to bring back a precise memory from years before. Consider also the ways in which we associate a particular task with a particular emotion; how do you feel when it’s time to get out of bed in the morning on a work day? Or again, on a day when you’re about to go on holiday? At some stage in the past, you had anchored a particular state to an imagined situation; whatever went through your mind, whatever picture or voice was in your head, had had that emotion anchored to it. Knowing that, you know that you can change any state, if you want to enough.

Will and Congruence

One of the central themes in magick is Will. This is probably best defined as ‘unity of desire and purpose’. This is the unity of purpose that brings about the reification of your most inspiring dream. Most people, most of the time, hardly ever achieve this condition, and simply wander from one passing impulse to another. Failed attempts to break out of the cyclical world of desire-gratification-frustration and achieve one’s dream of life often feed back to the person an increased sense of impotence, resulting in further entrenchment in hopeless cyclicity.

The condition of one-pointedness is known in NLP as ‘congruence’. A person in a congruent state knows what he or she wants, and is already in the process of achieving it, by that very fact. She can walk into a room and command attention by the slightest of gestures. The kind of congruence required to influence others can, to some extent, be developed by rigorous attention to one’s own body language and voice tonality whilst in the process of speaking one’s desire. This will lead to some inner congruence. However, the royal road to congruence at every level is to pay attention to signals from the ‘unconscious’ that manifest as body sensations, inner voices and images.

Try the following: get into a relaxed posture, and ask your ‘unconscious’ if it’s listening: you will probably get a sensation of some kind; this is a congruence signal. Now repeat to yourself a desire-sentence about which you have some doubt or fear. You will probably experience a different sensation, which is an incongruence signal. Experiment with different formulations of the desire-sentence, until you feel quite a different sensation. When you are confident that this is a congruence signal, you will have formulated a congruent desire. If you persist with such techniques, it becomes rather like dowsing. Some form of congruence testing is a powerful tool for magick, because you have at your disposal the entire committee of selves whenever you want to clarify your will.

Multiple selves, Goddesses & Gods

Chaos magicians have been working with the notion of multiple selves for some time. So have NLP practitioners, as the following quote from Frogs into Princes by Bandler and Grinder shows:-

We’re all schizophrenic… Evolutionarily, the next step, which we’re all engaged in, is multiple personality. You’re all multiple personalities. There are only 2 differences between you and an officially diagnosed multiple personality: 1) the fact that you don’t have amnesia for how you are behaving in one context; you can remember it in another context, 2) you can choose how to respond contextually. Whenever you don’t have a choice about how you respond in context, you are a robot. So you have two choices. You can be a multiple personality or a robot. Choose well.

We can view a personality as a pattern of social responses. It consists of language, of external and internal signals—body language, voice tonality and language patterns that project it to other people, and internal dialogue and internal imagery that supports it and keeps it in place internally. It has an agenda, concerning social power transactions via the repetition of learned roles (or, in the case of more advanced personas, adaptation). One feature of personalities is that they attempt to achieve (or believe they have achieved) some consistency of behaviour. They are in a sense functional clusters of wordviruses or memes which have acquired self-consciousness, and in this respect they are like deities.

Chaos magicians invoke god/dess-like entities from various sources, including the archetypal/stereotypical humanoid deities of pagan pantheons, characters out of films and comics. The god/dess form Baphomet as used by chaos magicians is a kind of reinvented gnostic entity, culled from various sources, which has come to represent magick, and the universal life-field, the planetary biogram. When we invoke any of these entities, we are seeking to bring into our nervous systems a perfect (or at least improved) role-model for one of our personas. Or indeed to assemble a ‘new’ personality for some new function. These selves are then available so that we can access and act from whatever self is the most effective in every situation we find ourselves in. The use of samples is a kind of parallel in music to this modelling of personality traits we desire. Flexibility is one of the cornerstones of power.

Systems, Levels & Hierarchies

Magickal systems almost invariably involve some sort of symbolic psychocosm. These maps can be useful for doing practical magick—generally in proportion to how much the magician immerses herself in the set of beliefs that the system implies and depends upon. The usual meta-belief in Chaos Magick is that belief is a tool, rather than an end in itself , and a particular psychocosm is viewed in the light of its usefulness. Psychocosms originate from mystery schools (‘Qabalah’ means something like ‘oral tradition’) or from commentaries on older texts (the I Ching, reconstructed Runic systems), or from scientific considerations, like the 8 Circuit model of Timothy Leary and Robert Anton Wilson.

Some such maps can be viewed as purely magical or ‘spiritual’ in purpose. Such psychocosms have teachings associated with them which are only comprehensible if the map itself has been internalized. Further, some, like the Qabalistic Tree of Life, have an inbuilt up/down quality, a hierarchy, explicit or otherwise. This kind of hierarchy is seldom helpful in practical magick. For disentangling levels in the selves, the neurolinguist Robert Dilts has created a ‘Unified Field of Neurological Levels’. This is purely functional, stripped of any ‘spiritual’ message. Each level contains all the most general features of the level below it. In other words, the patterns in one level imply the patterns in the next level down. This means that change at any level will affect the levels below it, but not necessarily the levels above it (although this can happen). It is not the case that higher levels are more important than lower; rather, the model reflects the way in which willed change works: it is more effective to make a change at a higher level, and that is precisely what makes it a higher level. Dilts’ Neurological Levels are:-

  • SPIRITUAL: Purpose. This is anything which is at a higher level of power or priority than:-
  • IDENTITY: all the things we tell ourselves about who we are; we are often not conscious of the self-referential loops that inhabit this level;
  • BELIEFS: whatever ideas we think are true. This includes our criteria, which are implicit in the way we make decisions, whether we are conscious of them or not.
  • CAPABILITIES: these are our skills—not just manual or recognized intellectual ones, but the abilities that enable us to get through our everyday lives, socialize, make decisions, engineer our emotions and so on.
  • BEHAVIOUR: what we actually do in the world. Our usage of time.
  • ENVIRONMENT: the final level which we change through action (including magick).

Conclusions

Magick is inextricably intertwined with language, and language is just about everything. We are immersed in it for better or for worse, and so we need to understand it, take a grasp of our inner linguistic processes, so that we can become just what we want, rather than another robot whose blueprint was drawn up by someone else. Change is resisted by the nervous system, which prefers to repeat comfortable and familiar actions which have become ineffective rather than adopt new and more powerful strategies.

Magicians are generally aware that, in order to get results and fulfil your potential, you have to do things you don’t initially like—you have to break out of your ‘comfort zone’, in order to change. Through its modelling of successful change, NLP has accumulated (and is still accumulating) some of the smoothest techniques for changing beliefs and identities. This in itself makes it worth the magician’s while to investigate.

Recommended reading

NLP

  • Richard Bandler & John Grinder—Frogs into Princes. Fast-moving seminar transcripts from the original masters.
  • Joseph O’Connor & John Seymour—Introducing NLP (Thorsons). Good general introduction to NLP, including Robert Dilts’s Unified Field.

Magick

  • David Lee—Chaotopia! (Attractor)
  • Peter J. Carroll—Liber Null (Samuel Weiser)
  • Phil Hine—Prime Chaos (Chaos International, BM Sorcery, London WC1N 3XX)

The 8-Circuit Model

  • Robert Anton Wilson—Prometheus Rising