On the Reality and Ubiquity of Witches

“For my part, I have ever believed, and do now know, that there are witches.”

Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici (1642)

“You have sold yourself to do evil.”

1 Kings 21: 20

In a recent post, Kristor confessed his belief in daimonic reality, as indeed every logical human must.  Belief in spirits is not an archaic superstition, but is rather a valid inference from the fact that the natural world is not self-explanatory.  As Sir Thomas Browne explained in the middle of the seventeenth century, the “learned heads” that say it is self-explanatory “forget their metaphysics.”

It is, moreover, evident from the contradictory impulses that disturb this lower world of man and nature that the spiritual ground of this lower world is inharmonious, is indeed riven by discord and rocked by some sort of spiritual war.  If we liken our lower world to the passenger cabin of a jetliner, the violent banking and diving of the aircraft suggests there is a fighting in the cockpit.

Those who deny daimonic reality are, as Browne tells us, “atheists.”  Those who deny there is war in this daimonic reality are deists, and as such are embarrassed to explain why life in this lower world lurches, as it does, between horror and sublimity.  Those who affirm both spirits and this spiritual war must, however, show the courage of their convictions by addling the logical affirmation of witches—for what is a witch but a human who has joined in this spiritual war on the side of the Devil.

It is not superstitious to believe that there is a spiritual reality, that the spirits are at war, and that men and women are caught up in this war as either dupes or partisans.  There are, however, a great many superstitions that clutter our minds and cripple our thinking about these grave matters.  Superstition is not entertainment of a false belief.  Superstition is fixation on a symbol while forgetting the reality that it symbolizes.  This is why superstition and idolatry are identical in the Bible, and why our understanding of spiritual matters, which we necessarily apprehend symbolically, is so prone to being cluttered and crippled by superstition.

“Religious symbols point beyond the particular objects whose material they use to ultimate reality.”*

The essence of superstition is to make a fetish of the pointer while forgetting the ultimate (spiritual) reality to which it points.  A religious symbol is a revelation of spiritual reality, but when this symbol degrades into a superstition and a fetish, it hides that reality.  This degradation of religious symbols into superstitions is, needless to say, a important tactic of the Devil in the larger spiritual war.

This is especially evident in the swiftness with which the Devil degrades symbols that reveal his side of spiritual reality.  There was a time when the spiritual reality of the Devil was, for instance, revealed in the image of a red and horned figure brandishing a pitchfork; but that image has now degraded to a superstition behind which the Devil is hidden.  There was a time when the spiritual reality of Hell was revealed in the image of a lake of fire; but that image has now degraded to a superstition behind which Hell is hidden.    Symbols grow old and become unbelievable.  Superstition makes it seem that the thing symbolized has grown old and becomes unbelievable too.

This is perhaps nowhere so evident as in our silly superstition about witches.  Our silly superstition is not our belief that witches exist, which is as certain as that four is a multiple of two.  Our silly superstition is that a witch wears a pointy hat, stirs a bubbling cauldron, keeps a black cat, and flies through the air on a broomstick.  Our silly superstition is that a witch is a woman who combines “eye of newt and toe of frog” in order to make the neighbors milk cow go dry; or that a witch must be old, and ugly, and inclined to cackle over her craft.  These symbols may have been a revelation in 1600, but they are today a blackout curtain behind which the reality of witches and witchcraft is hidden.

What I have said of witches and witchcraft may also be said of the act known as selling one’s soul to the Devil.  To deny that this act is possible is, as we have seen, to sink into the metaphysical imbecility of atheism.  But the ease and frequency of the transaction has been hidden by the degradation of  symbols into superstitions.  The Devil to whom souls are sold is assisted in his bargaining by the Mephistophelean image of a legal covenant, written under the eye of a smoky guest, by the light of a guttering candle, on a curled and yellow parchment, with a signature of fresh-cut blood.

The truth of the matter is that every one of us has at one time or another leased our soul to the Devil, for this is what we do whenever we sin.  To sin is to join the spiritual war on the side of the Devil and against the Logos that is Christ.  Repentance is a resolve not to renew that lease.  Backsliding is a failure in that resolve.  We may suppose there was a time when the Mephistophelean image of “selling” served as a vital religious symbol that revealed the spiritual reality of these transactions, but the Mephistophelean image is now, quite obviously, a dead superstition that hides the reality by making it appear altogether unreal. 

Since I never sighed a covenant in blood, I may believe I have not “sold my soul to the Devil.”  And since I have never flown on a broomstick, I may believe I cannot be a witch.  These are the comforting and diabolical delusions of superstitions that fixate on symbols while forgetting the reality that is symbolized.  And as I said earlier, superstition is a tactic employed by the side of the spiritual war that has an interest in your forgetting.

* * * * *

Christ is the personification of Logos, by which is meant the word, or mind, or logic of God.  This is the logic that prevailed in the Garden in the days before the Fall, when Adam was at peace with nature, his spouse, and his Lord.  Antichrist is therefore the personification of Anti-logos, by which is meant the word that contradicts God’s word, the mind that dissents from God’s mind, the logic that defies God’s logic.  Thus, Lucifer was the original Antichrist and the revolt of his Rebel Angles was the first outbreak of Anti-logos.

The spiritual war is, therefore, the war between Christ and Antichrist, Logos and Anti-logos, Heaven and Hell.  This war was brought to earth when Lucifer spoke his Anti-logos to Eve, incited her war against Logos, and thereby recruited his first witch.

“The Devil can assume a bodily shape, and speak to man out of it: as he did to Eve . . . to make men capable of entering into contract with him, for Satan is willing thus to ensure mortals of being enemies to heaven . . .”

This is why Sir Walter Scott tells us that witches and sorcerers were traditionally defined as “rebels to God” and “authors of sedition.”***  This is why another Scottish author, George Gilfillan, described the famous Witch of Endor as a “borderer between earth and hell.”†  She was a borderer whose principal occupation was smuggling all things hellish into earth.

A witch is, therefore, a partisan in the spiritual war, an ally of the Rebel Angles, and a disciple of Lucifer’s Anti-logos.  This may have once involved brewing potions made from “eye of newt and toe of frog,” or signing a fatal contract in blood, or even (as some say) kissing the Devil on his arse; but fixating on these symbols now hides more than it reveals.  The essence of a witch is to join with the Rebels in the spiritual war between Logos and Anti-logos, Heaven and Hell.

There is, I believe, one old religious symbol that has not lost all of its revelatory power in this regard.  This is the symbol of the witches’ sabbath as a dance in which the witches move while the Devil plays the tune.  That tune is, of course, a symbol of the music of Anti-logos that moves the bodies of those who have joined the Rebellion–and I daresay we all know what it sounds like.

“Where was also present the Devil, who had on a black coat, a blue bonnet, a blue band, who played on a pipe, and they all danced. At which meeting they were contriving and consulting with the foresaid Black Man, whom they called their Lord . . .”††

*) John Y. Fenyon, “Being-Itself and Religious Symbolism,” Journal of Religion (1965)
**) Frances Grant Cullen, Sadducimus Debellatus (1698)
***) Sir Walter Scott, Letters on Demonology (1830).
†) George Gilfillan, Bards of the Bible (1851)
††) A Relation of the Diabolical Practices of Above Twenty Wizards and Witches (1697)

50 thoughts on “On the Reality and Ubiquity of Witches

  1. Pingback: On the Reality and Ubiquity of Witches | Reaction Times

  2. It’s a good thing that while the Orthosphere exist for, I don’t, know, ten years maybe, only now did you and Kristor get around to write about this. Because while demons and witches might exist, focusing on them is not very healthy and the problem is, there is a certain tendency in human nature, that especially the uneducated and simple tend to really focus too much on superstitious fear.

    Recall in how many cultures people were afraid of the evil eye and tried to ward it off, how many primitive cultures (Africa, Papua New Guinea) people becoming succesful or acting weird was a reason to accuse them of being witches and kill them. The issue is not even as much witch-hunts but rather the tendency of folk religions to focus too much on superstitious fear and warding off evil influence and sort of losing sight of what the religion is supposed to be about, it happened in Europe, it happened in even in Tibet.

    So, this might be real, but the uneducated, folkish versons of basically all religions tend to have a drift towards unhealthy, superstitious focus on fear from evil influences and sort of taking their eyes off the real ball. This means, to me, to counter this tendency, the educated should not focus much on it.The root of it might be real, but what superstition in this regard means that a lot of simple people out there tend to see 100 fake cases for one real case.

    • Unfortunately, not focusing on demons and witches is even more unhealthy. If they exist, as they almost certainly do, their purpose is to disrupt the Logos. If you think of our fallen world as midway between the Garden and the Wilderness, disrupting logos moves it closer to the Wilderness and even farther from the Garden. You are right, however, in saying that witch-hysteria is itself, very often, an instrument of Anti-logos. Browne discusses this and deplores the fact that practitioners of folk magic were so often persecuted as witches. Browne suggests that the excesses of the witch-hunters ultimately serve to increase the security of real witches because they disgust the public and convince the public that all accusations of witchcraft are fake. This is an important ideal, and one we can see used in the communist “witch hunts” of the 1950s. Periodic witch hunts are good for witches because they are followed by phases when no one believes in witches or witch hunting.

    • The majority of the history of the Church’s actions around witch-craft mostly revolves around trying to get peasants and local land-holders not to persecute unpopular women as witches without sufficient proof, so yes, this is an issue. However, that does not imply that the opposite error, dismissing witchcraft as unreal, is not also an error.

      In contemporary America, I tend to think people are more prone to the latter error than the former. But I might be wrong. (We have other things to lynch people about these days, and yes, they are things that very much follow the patterns of witch mania.)

      • Many people have noted that Racism resembles the old evil eye: debilitation at a distance without obvious causal mechanisms.

  3. The word witch derives from a Saxon root meaning to weaken; witch and to weaken are, in fact, closely related. In the Scandinavian languages, the verb att svika, which has the same Germanic etymon as witch and to weaken, has taken on the meaning to betray. Deconstruction, the verbal and epistemological weapon of the Left, is a form all at once of weakening and betrayal. It poisons the language and therefore poisons the mind. Ensconced in the institutions of education, it is the witchcraft of the Twenty-First Century.

    • That’s interesting. Many of the folk traditions about witches say their spells cause people (and animals) to fall into a wasting languor and apathy. Logos is the path of life, Anti-logos the path of death. I of course wholeheartedly agree with you about deconstruction because this is a modern manifestation of witchcraft, a manifestation well hidden behind superstitions about eyes of newts and toes of frogs. As you say, what gives it away is the weakening, the fact that it demotivates and turns everything grey. Reading deconstruction makes people ugly, as a stroll down the corridors of an English Department will reveal. The visible effects of meth are not so obvious or appalling.

    • Lutheran pastor Richard Wurmbrand’s Was Karl Marx a Satanist? needed some editing for organization and citation. However, it’s worth reading if you can find it. A book by Prof. Paul Kengor that I haven’t read might cover the same ground.

      In any event, apropos of Deconstruction, Wurmbrand says that black magic often involves inverting names or phrases. Thus the young Marx wrote a “satanist” work called Oulanem, with “Oulanem” being an inversion of Emanuel. Someone wrote a book called The Philosophy of Misery, and Marx wrote a reply, The Misery of Philosophy. The first example at least sound likely enough as a satanist behavior, though I wouldn’t know. Interestingly, Pastor Wurmbrand takes his discussion up to a point and then says further inquiry isn’t for him — it would not be good for him to occupy his mind further with this sort of thing.

      A couple of books by Robert Payne also deal with this material, as I understand, not having read them, in the course of writing about Marx more generally.

      • I asked my young daughter to accompany me on my evening walk yesterday. I needed to explain that her admirable capacity for empathy was perilous when directed towards crazy people. Crazy people deserve pity, but a futile effort to understand them can make you crazy too. This is at the very least what happens to students who try to understand crack-brain philosophies, and there may be something more diabolical at work as well. At the very least, we can say that some philosophies operate at a subliminal level and the exoteric meaning of the text is less important than the psychological effect of reading it.

      • I feel like this statement is too loose. It is not evident from the outset, who is crazy. The circumstances should draw the line. You can always only go so far towards the other person. If they are heading straight towards a cliff, that is that. But you shouldn’t decide frivolously.

  4. My understanding is that repentance is something more like the acknowlegement that a sin is indeed a sin, in the context of affirming that one is on the side of God in this spiritual war.

    I think some such understanding is more accurate given that we know we shall in fact continue to sin, and are often unable (for many possible reasons, some due to ourselves, others due to the world) ever to cease sinning.

    Christians are not necessarily better at avoiding sin, and may indeed sin more than average, yet remain fully Christian.

    We cannot stop sinning, but can always repent, and we can always resolve to follow Jesus as he leads us to eternal life. There are increasing barriers to repentance as someone serves Satan, but none so great as value-inversion, when a sin is denied and regarded as virtue.

    It is in this sense that a single unrepented sin overturns a whole life of Christian 99% virtue. The corrupting effect of one or a few unrepented sins (usually the value-inversions of leftism) can be observed among many piously behaving church leaders.

    • I agree that repentance is not a cessation of sinning. It is refusal to identify with the sin as an essential part of one’s being. It is therefore the opposite of what is now called “pride.” In fact “pride” is anti-repentance and, as you say, it employs the Anti-logos of value inversion. In fact, one might say that “pride” is essence of a witch, and their principal point of resemblance to their lord and master.

    • I want to emphasize that repentance does involve the firm resolve to go forth and sin no more. I think you are right, as a practical fact, that in this fallen world and with our fallen wills and passions it is nigh on certain that we shall sin again. However, accepting this as a practical fact of life is quite different from accepting it with a, “Can’t be helped,” attitude. The latter leads to Hell.

      I know you know this and agree; I just think it’s important to belabour the point.

      • Repentance is one of those things I find hard to define. Feeling guilty is not enough, but perfect amendment is not required.

  5. The Latin for weak is vice. Vice is vicious: it is wicked; it weakens. The natural tendency of the Fall is to weakness, disorder, chaos, non-being.

    Whether or not we are interested in the demons, they are interested in us, and working away at weakening us at all times. We are all of us always more or less oppressed. It behooves us then to be wary of their motions; and this we cannot do if we belittle them or disbelieve in them, as so many eggheads have done over the centuries.

    Educated eggheads are often successful, unusually wealthy, charismatic, influential, and somewhat heretical. Because they cherish their novel notions they often propound and propagate them, or even engage in reform or revolution. They are therefore threats to the cult and its culture: some innovation is necessary to maintain cultural adaptation, but in the nature of things most mutations are lethal. Thus even with the best of intentions, eggheads can be vicious to a nation. They must therefore be managed, somehow; and the management of eccentrics is one important function of organized religion:

    Among the Volga Bulgars, Ibn Fadlan found a strange custom:

    When they observe a man who excels through quick-wittedness and knowledge, they say: “For this one it is more befitting to serve our Lord.” They seize him, put a rope around his neck and hang him on a tree where he is left until he rots away.

    Commenting on this passage, the Turkish orientalist Zeki Validi Togan … has this to say:

    There is nothing mysterious about the cruel treatment meted out by the Bulgars to people who were overly clever. It was based on the simple, sober reasoning of the average citizens who wanted only to lead what they considered to be a normal life, and to avoid any risk or adventure into which the “genius” might lead them.

    … He concludes that the victim “should not be regarded as simply a learned person, but as an unruly genius, one who is too clever by half.” This leads one to believe that the custom should be regarded as a measure of social defense against change, a punishment of non-conformists and potential innovators. But a few lines further down he gives a different interpretation:

    Ibn Fadlan describes not the simple murder of too-clever people, but one of their pagan customs: human sacrifice, by which the most excellent among men were offered as sacrifice to God. This ceremony was probably not carried out by common Bulgars, but by their Tabibs, or medicine men, i.e., their shamans, whose equivalents among the Bulgars and the Rus also wielded power of life and death over the people, in the name of their cult. According to Ibn Rusta, the medicine men of the Rus could put a rope round the neck of anybody and hang him on a tree to invoke the mercy of God. When this was done, they said: “This is an offering to God.”

    Perhaps both types of motivation were mixed together …

    Arthur Koestler:
    The Thirteenth Tribe: The Khazar Empire and Its Heritage, page 48 ff.

    The Inquisition is often characterized as a witch hunt, but in fact it was the opposite. It was a systematic attempt to distinguish carefully between eccentrics and dangerous heretics, ordered to the moderation and control of what would otherwise have been wild, inapt, and unjust persecutions of every sort of odd fellow under the aegis of civil authority. It was a trammel upon that civil authority, and upon the mob.

    But, humans are fallible, so even the most careful adjudication can badly err, as happened with Jesus and Socrates.

    • This is in line with what Bonald has often written about prophets and priests, the former disruptive and the later emollient. Although of a prophetic temperament myself, I see the point of a social suspicion of charismatic wild-men, particularly those who betray a hankering for political power.

      Of course a witch is nothing other than the anti-type of a saint, the witch being fully committed to the Anti-logos and the saint being fully committed to the Logos. Saints are wild men insofar as they have escaped the vicious cage of their society. Hence the way their societies dealt with Jesus and Socrates.

      Your point about the Inquisition cannot be too often restated. The Inquisition saved innocent lives from the prejudice against eccentrics and punishment in what were really private vendettas. But the Inquisition never forgot that witches, heretics and false Marranos did exist and were dangerous.

      • The Church was not sure what to make of Francis, or for that matter of the Franciscans, for quite some time after the foundation of the OFM. She distrusts all mystics, all private revelations, all enthusiasms, and all apparitions, until they have been thoroughly tested. As she must. And she can err, at least for a time. Sc., her reaction to Joan of Arc: immolated, but also then beatified.

        The jury is still out on Origen. I predict eventual sainthood for him, but it might take a few more millennia.

        If prophets were not somehow wild and dangerous – or, at least, did not *seem* that way – they’d be of no value whatever. They wouldn’t be prophets.

    • Not really, although demonic will to many readers suggest the fallen angels only, just as angelic will suggest only the loyal angels. I take the word daimonic to denote the entire spiritual world, “demons” and “angels” alike.

  6. @ Dale James Nelson, Bruce Charlton, & JM: The notion of reversal – of the inversion of value – is a common feature of the daimonic phenomena that Patrick Harpur catalogues in his Daimonic Reality, which I discussed the other day. The beings observed often have backward heads, feet or legs, or are a mix of physiological incompatibilities, or are shapeshifters. Cf. also the theromorphic character of so many daimonic beings – including those loyal to YHWH (as cherubim, seraphim, the 4 Living Creatures, and so forth). Cf. also the World Turned Upside Down of Mardi Gras, Hallowe’en, and similar festivals.

    The Resurrection, too, and all miracles, are irruptions of the regular values to which we are grown accustomed.

    Perhaps the distinction should be between transcendence and subscendence of the categories of a given logistical calculus and its world – of the proper logos of a world – transcendence being Logical and subscendence being anti-Logical. Or – no, and – the distinction between perfection and defection of a form; between meeting and missing a proper telos.

    • In Plato and the Neoplatonists, the demonic realm exists between the mortal and immortal realms. The demons carry messages to and from the gods. The word daimon is a diminutive, containing in its first syllable the word for god. The word angelos also implies a messenger. Both words are bound up with logos — orderly verbality signifying the Order of the World. The God of messaging, Hermes, has ambiguous traits, and these can turn up in his subordinates. Socrates’ demon only ever told him what not to do. Longish demonic or angelic messages are perhaps dangerous, if not by intention, then by effect.

      • In Place of the Lion, Charles Williams makes clear how very dangerous even the loyal angels can be to animals such as we. They are so powerful – so beautiful and so powerfully alluring – as to take us over completely. This is why they are so terrifying; why the prophets always fell on their faces upon seeing them, and why the angels always had to begin their angelophanies by saying to them, “Be not afraid!”

  7. I have a basic difficulty with understanding anything supernatural, be that good or bad (demons), small or as big as the basis of all existence. Let’s start from the viewpoint that is called scientism, materialism or empiricism. And then one learns there is such thing as metaphysics. Metaphysics is about ideas, thoughts, forms, in a modern lingo, information. OK information is a different thing than matter, I get it. Metaphysics is also about minds. I can also accept the argument, with some difficulty, that minds have to have a supernatural element to them because they are capable of processing the kind of information that is called abstract ideas, and abstractions do not exist in nature.

    Generally, when Christians talk about metaphysics and the supernatural, they tend to talk about minds and information (form, idea, whatever). There are no magical trees and rocks, that is pagan stuff. Only minds are a bit “magical” for Christians, for the above reason. Thus, the scientistic, materialistic, empiricist viewpoint is entirely correct for studying rocks and trees, just not for minds and information. This is very roughly the Christian position, right?

    And here is where my mind stops: minds and information are claimed to have observable physical effects, with no materialistic, naturalistic explanation, hence supernatural. This ranges from God creating the world or making physical miracles to witches casting spells with physical effects because they are somehow in contact with demonic minds that have some special kind of information (form, idea, whatever). Just… how? How do minds/information, that is, the metaphysical, end up causing (supernatural) *physical* effects?

    This I think is actually the most important question for the seeking atheist. If an atheist rejects the metaphysical, he is simply philosophically illiterate. But the big leap is IMHO accepting that the metaphysical can influence the physical. It can even create it. How? Why?

    • Kristor had a post recently that argued that the “observable, physical effects” derived from material–and so observable, physical things–is not dostinct from the spiritual and in fact gets causality backwards. I can’t link at the moment but if someone quicker on the draw than i doesnt link you, i will link you when i can.

      The basic premise, if im understanding right, is that the physical is an instantiation of the spiritual, and cannot be conceived separately. An analogy might be our souls–a cliche you might have heard from cs lewis goes “you dont have a soul, you ARE a soul, you HAVE a body.” But even that is imprecise, because a living body cannot be conceived independently of its soul. Only death separates them. Likewise with other physical things, instead of a soul, something akin to a form. A rock is the physical instantiation of the form of rockness, etc.

      Now, an objection might be that this begs the question, presuming that the spiritual is metaphysically prior to the physical. Maybe so–but the atheists starting point, begs the question in presupposing that the two are metaphhsically distinct. So given two seingly fallacious arguments, which better fits the observed facts? Angels and demons are other “daimoniac” entities are accomodated by a spiritual existence. They cannot be explained by a metaphysic that cleaves the spiritual and physical apart.

      Kristor, begging your correction if i have erred from your meaning in the article i referenced.

      • @Kristor these are very interesting thoughts but you are taking things a bit further than the usual Thomist philosophers. Briggs has an interesting point in https://wmbriggs.com/post/17521/ that most errors are reducible to erring towards materialism or erring towards idealism. I know I am always erring towards materialism because that it is the obvious thing to do in the 20th and early 21th century, we are living in a materialist era. But are you not erring towards idealism?

      • I don’t think so. To a man raised as a modern such as we, any wee nod in the direction of the ideal cannot but seem to be a bit odd and idiosyncratic, and indeed unjustified, probably wrong. But that is a prejudice of moderns. To any other sorts of men, a recognition that there is an ideal aspect to reality would seem just obvious.

        So, what seems at first to moderns like us to be an overemphasis on the ideal is really just a restoration of the ideal to its former and traditional status in the metaphysical conspectus.

      • I have re-read them now. What I would like to raise that the “spiritual” is an overly vague and general term. When metaphysics talks about forms, or ideas, I can interpret them as information (and another thing the modern world is good at dealing with is information theory, it is just that we did not really notice it that information is really a different thing than matter and it is at least as fundamental), and the minds that deal with the information. The idea that minds must have a supernatural component in order to deal with abstract ideas is not too difficult for me, they make a certain sense, although of course even abstract ideas need to be stored and communicated through matter. Anyway, this kind of metaphysics is kind of clear. But “spiritual” is a too vague term.

        Of course there is another problem. I am knowingly using the word “information” in an imprecise sense. Because information is something we moderns think we understand well and relate to it easily, like this comment and everything you see on your screen or phone is information. But in fact information is defined as “data that reduces uncertainty”. Data is more fundamental than information… yet this imprecise look at information makes it easy. Information is whatever is in a book, in my mind, on my hard disk, or the DNA of a cell. Which later is interesting, because that is the only example where information was not produced with the intent to be processed by a mind.

        Another aspect. You know about the “brain in a vat, everything is a computer simulation like the Matrix” kind of thinking. This is sort of a way for moderns, who just love to have a material basis for everything, to think of a universe consisting of information. While this is obviously not what you believe in, do you think this model can be a useful stepping stone, or is it hopelessly misleading?

        Back then Mencius Moldbug pointed out that those people who find the brain in a vat thing thinkable, have already accepted religion, they just want to have it with modern aesthetics, because the alien sysadmin running the simulation, or the computer itself, or they together are obviously omnipotent, omniscient etc. So this does sound like a step in a way up from materialism.

        Another thing is that ages ago I asked a bright young priest that before he asks me whether I believe in God, define God. He said “God is that which that relates to the world the same way a man relates to his thoughts.” Well my toughts are certainly as kind of information, so this too would point to a world made of information…

      • In the Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche argued that Greek culture failed because the Apollonian overwhelmed the Dionysian. Man needs ecstasy, mystery, and myth, and cannot live exclusively in the world produced by the critical spirit. Henri de Lubac (The Drama of Atheistic Humanism [1944]) calls this “the prison of things that are clear.” Reading between your lines, I sense that you are in that prison and that you are vaguely uncomfortable with that clarity. I say vaguely uncomfortable because you seek to alleviate your discomfort with more clarity, more precision, more exact knowledge. This is like trying to drink yourself sober. Fuzzy-minded people should balance their minds with the study of logic and mathematics. Crisp-minded people also need to balance their minds by reflecting on poems and paintings of ambiguous significance. There are aspects of reality that only come out in soft focus.

        I will confess that I don’t understand the proposition that all the world is information. Perhaps I am simple-minded, but information is about something and that something can’t just be more information. Information also implies something that is informed, and this cannot be nothing more than more information. I do think you are correct, however, insofar as you are saying that certain metaphors suggest themselves to people in certain stages of civilization. The Stoics likened the universe to a giant vegetable, many today liken it to a giant computer. I expect the computer metaphor will seem as strange as the vegetable metaphor some day.

      • Dividualist, thanks for your engagement with these topics, and with what I have written about them.

        The best way I have found to think about spirit is to distinguish it from both matter and form. In classical anthropology, the soul is the form of a living creature, whereas the spirit is the concrete life of that soul – a connotation captured in the Latin spiritus and the Greek pneuma: both mean breath. We may think of that life – of that process of living – as the enaction of its form by a concrete entity. In the case of an animal, the concrete entity enacting its soul would be a moment in the living career of the animal. The enaction of its soul is the breath of the spirit, by which the spirit literally inspires its own logos and so iterates its life – i.e., precisely, *informs* its life, thereby reducing the uncertainty about what exactly the creature is. The information of a life by a form makes it definite, just one thing and not some other that it might have been. And that definiteness achieved only at the completion of the act of becoming informed by the soul is the fact of the creature. It is the implementation in matter of the soul. Only as a fully implemented, definite fact can the creature have any definite properties, such as mass, location, and so forth.

        This gets at the definition of God – and, in passing, of the human being – by the young priest you mentioned. The thought is not the person – not a concrete thing in and of itself – but rather a formal aspect thereof, in very much the same way that a man’s height is a formal aspect of his person.

        Likewise for the world. It is not made of information; is not information and nothing else, period full stop. It is, rather, definitely formed, having been informed by acts of information – of enaction in concrete fact of forms. The world is not made only of forms, nor is it made only of matter. It is just itself. And that self has formal and material aspects.

        When we start to think of the world – or anything else that is concretely real – being made of something else, we are in danger of improper reduction, and so to Whitehead’s Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness. We are in danger of explaining away what we hoped to understand, and replacing it instead with another thing that then stands in need of explanation. That can entrap us in a bootless endless search for clarity of the sort that Professor Smith notices.

        To be any good to us at all, explanations must terminate ultimately on some concretely real entity.

        In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the puerile materialist Eustace Scrubb told the retired star Ramandu that in his world – our own – stars were not persons like Ramandu, but just balls of burning gas. The angel – for that is what he is – replied: “Even in your world, that is not what stars are, but rather only what they are made of.”

        As stars are indeed made of burning gas, so you are made of atoms formed and reformed into a certain perdurant configuration, again and again. But that is not what you are.

    • Our philosophers (Richard and Kristor) would almost certainly give you a better answer than I can, but here it goes. You are jumping he gun when you presume that metaphysics is about ideas, etc. There are, of course, metaphysical doctrines that ground the phenomenal world in ideas, information, minds, or whatever else, but it begs the question to assume that any one of these doctrines is correct. All we can say for certain, I believe, is that the natural or physical world that is given to our senses is not self-explanatory–not complete–and that we therefore require something metaphysical or supernatural to complete it. Metaphysical and supernatural are precise synonyms.

      I believe profound humility is the traditional Christian approach to metaphysics (or the supernatural). It is for us mostly incomprehensible, although some aspects have been revealed in scripture, the person of Christ, and perhaps mystical experience. Some inferences can also be drawn from these revelations and the facts of ordinary experience. But metaphysics is for us mostly a mystery. It is analogous to the “dark matter” of the physicists. We know it must be there, but it cannot be observed. Many of the so-called gnostic heresies are failures of metaphysical humility, and therefore (as I’ll explain in a moment) failures of faith.

      It is an interesting question how sprit (or mind, if you like) can affect matter. After all, it does not seem that a ghost that can pass through walls could pick up a knife and stab you. This leads to the puzzle (possibly insoluble) of how my notion to write a blog post actually causes the physical activity necessary to write that post. As Leibniz pointed out, there is in my mind nothing like the pulleys and levers that I observe in my body. So, how is it that the ghost that can pass through a wall can pick up a knife? I don’t believe anyone has answered this question to anything near universal satisfaction.

      Faith is in large part the capacity to live without fear in a mysterious world. This is why Jesus so often extolled the spiritual grace of children. Children know that the world is mostly mysterious, and yet they sleep well, laugh often, and rarely lack an appetite for food. Adults, on the other hand, are frightened by mystery, and so seek to replace nescience with knowledge. Sometimes they are successful. Sometimes they are not. When they are not, they (like the gnostics) prefer pseudo-science to nescience. People of faith are more comfortable with nescience. People without faith are more inclined to become fanatical disciples of some wacky pseudo-science(Hence the quote, wrongly attributed to Chesterton, that the man who stops believing in God begins to believe in anything).

      I think your closing question may be in some ways analogous to whatever happens inside this old laptop when that little revolving donut appears on the screen and everything else stops working. The machine is trying to do what it cannot do. Atheists like to quote Galileo’s line, “but it moves.” I can say the same thing about my finger punching this key on the keyboard. I have no idea how my notion set in motion the causal chain that moved the lever of my digit, but I do know that it did. And I trust it is well things are so.

      • I read Plato with more pleasure than understanding. What gives me pleasure are the sublime symbols that stimulate my imagination (i.e. open my inner eye). But there are in Plato no “wiring diagrams” to show how natural and supernatural are connected. To a man who really wants to see a “wiring diagram,” my pleasure in sublime symbols is just “mental masturbation.” This is a charge that cannot be dismissed out of hand, but I think it is untrue. The supernatural (or metaphysical) transcends the natural (or physical). Seeking to do this with a “wiring diagram” is simply to build another Tower of Babel, since “wires” and “diagrams” exist only on the natural level.

        Here’s an analogy. I often meet students who are struggling at the university because their high-school technique no longer works. They were in most cases hard-working memorizers. I think hard work and memory are very important parts of intellectual ability, but one cannot succeed at the university with an exclusive reliance on hard work and memory. It the university really offers a “higher” education, and not just more education of the same sort they received in high school, these students must “transcend” hard work and memory. They must learn to think analytically, imaginatively, creatively. And here is my main point: they will never “transcend” hard work and memory by working hard at memorizing a description of the nature of transcendence.

      • Hm. The natural and the supernatural are different , but our minds work the same way, so if our minds require the “wires” for understanding one it will also require it for understanding the other.

        Must be a good university. My high school technique was just remembering what was taught during classes and hardly doing any work at home, and I upgraded this to hard-work memorizing and even more importantly practicing doing math and its related subjects, stats, operations researchs etc. until it became muscle memory, because I could not rely on anything else during exam stress. But it was a business school. That was probably playing it on easy mode.

      • What exactly do you mean by faith? I mean, I have met at least three different aproaches to it. When I was young I thought it means belief, and it means belief in the sense when one says “I believe it will rain”, and I was a typical angry atheist because if I don’t believe something, then why do they expect me to make myself believe it and how. Why should I “police” my mind? And if I say, not even just outwardly but in my mind that “I believe it” but if it is not true, then what use it is? My younger self was silly in many ways but had something I still have and still consider a good thing: a hatred for lying, and especially for lying to yourself. Whatever faith is, telling yourself “I believe” while you do not actually believe cannot be a component of it, because lying to yourself is in my little personal book is the supreme evil (as it makes any kind of rational thought impossible).

        Then later on I met views that faith is something closer to hope. “The substance of things hoped for.” It is not like belief in a neutral stuff like it will rain or not or the accelaration of Earth’s gravity is 9.8 m/s or 8.8. I have already agreed with Chesterton that sin is not a religious idea, it is 100% practical and obvious, you just go out to the street – or look in the mirror – and see it. The idea that there is a supernatural salvation from sin, that is a religious idea. So in this sense faith is not as much belief in certain statements being true but more like a hope and trust in God that he has not abandoned us into all this sin but has a way out for us.

        Then I met a Greek Orthodox guy who has put it this way, the original meaning of faith, pistis is not really about beliefs or other mental states at all, but about a kind of activity. You do not have to “police” your mental states, just your actions. Effectively he told me something along the lines of “orthopraxy”.

      • The concept of Faith is easier for me to accept because it isn’t for me just a concept. My Faith is not particularly robust or exemplary, but I have something in me to which the word Faith refers. This means I do not get tangled up in definitions, which are really just more words in need of their own definitions. If someone were to ask me to explain the nature of a hamburger, it would be much easier if I could point to an actual hamburger. Otherwise we would get tangled up in discussions of just what counts as beef, and just what it means for beef to be “ground.” So Faith was hard to understand until I had it.

        The point here is that you will not acquire Faith by developing a satisfactory definition of Faith. You will acquire a satisfactory definition by acquiring Faith. Of course they you will no longer care about its definition, and will see a definition is somewhat foolish and trivial. No one who is in love asks about the definition of love.

      • Yes, of course, it is terms of theory that are defined, terms of reality are demonstrated, by pointing to a hamburger. If it is not conventient, one can do a halfway good job by describing it, comparing it something known to the other person. I do not want to insist, but just a short question, when you realized you have Faith, was it somewhat similar to something else? Like, to hope?

      • I observed it in my behavior. Not any marked improvement in that behavior from a moral point of view, I’m afraid; but I watched myself slowly beginning to talk and act as if I were a Christian. I remember the shock I felt when I found myself in a bookstore buying a book written for Christians, not just about Christianity. A year or so later, I found myself sitting in church services. A year or so after that, I found myself wanting to partake of the eucharist. This may overstate the passivity of my conversion, but I certainly experienced it as something that happened to me rather than something I did. It was not, however, a “road to Damascus” experience. It happened gradually, like growing old.

      • Hello, Div. I’ve struggled with “faith” throughout life. I always thought that blind acceptance — or worse, intentionally believing something repugnant to reason — was contemptible. When I heard Christians speak this way, it angered me. For if the God that they worshiped was real, he certainly wouldn’t command such foolishness.

        The word in Greek (πίστις) has a range of meaning in pagan and Christian usage, including reliability, trust, and persuasion. Like the watered-down version often repeated by simple Christians, it involves something distinct from demonstration. Augustine advised the Christian, “crede ut intelligas” — believe in order that you may understand. A young Jesuit that I knew applied this idea to tentative acceptance in order to progress in knowledge, regardless of the discipline. When we’re in a state of ignorance and trying to learn, advances require initial trust (in the material, the mentor, the method, etc.). In the spiritual life, like the arts and sciences and life in general, we proceed to learn by trust . . . by faith. We tentatively accept based on the goods that we see and verify after the fact based on whether the lessons learnt make more pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

        Yet, it is easy to overemphasize the epistemic element in faith. My own musing, inspired by Vladimir Lossky, is that faith is its own faculty, the proper object of which is God. Yet, God is the proper, ultimate object of many (all?) of our faculties. So, what is the specific difference with faith? Perhaps, it is the faculty of communion — of relating to another person (or maybe even to other non-personal beings). As such, it would be a fundamental spiritual faculty for a human being — even more so than the intellect. The idiot and the genius as such are equals in their aptitude toward faith. That corresponds well with the Church’s experience, and that could not happen if faith were essentially a cognitive matter. Lossky writes:

        “In St. Paul, knowledge of God writes itself into a personal relationship expressed in terms of reciprocity [exchange]: reciprocity with the object of theology (which, in reality, is a subject), reciprocity also with those to whom the theological word is addressed. At its best, it is communion: I know as I am known. Before the development of Christian theology, this mystery of communion appears absent from Greek through: it is found only in Philo, that is to say, in a partially biblical context. Theology, then, is located in a relationship of revelation where the initiative belongs to God, while implying a human response, the free response of faith and love, which the theologians of the Reformation have often forgotten. The involvement of God calls forth our involvement. The theological quest supposes therefore the prior coming of what is quested, or rather of Him Who has already come to us and is present in us: God was the first to love us and He sent us His Son, as St. John says. This coming and this presence are seized by faith which thus underlies, with priority and in all necessity, theological thought. Certainly, faith is present in all walks, in all sciences of the human spirit, but as supposition, as working hypothesis: here, the moment of faith remains burdened with an uncertainty which proof alone could clear. Christian faith, on the contrary, is adherence to a presence which confers certitude, in such a way that certitude, here, is first. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the manifestation of realities unseen (Heb. 11:1). What one quests is already present, precedes us, makes possible our questing itself. “Through faith, we comprehend (we think) how the ages have been produced” (Heb. 11:3). Thus faith allows us to think, it gives us true intelligence. Knowledge is given to us by faith, that is to say, by our participatory adherence to the presence of Him Who reveals Himself. Faith is therefore not a psychological attitude, a mere fidelity. It is an ontological relationship between man and God, an internally objective relationship for which the catechumen prepares himself, and through which baptism and chrismation are conferred upon the faithful: gifts which restore and vivify the deepest nature of man. “In Baptism,” said Irenaeus, “one receives the immutable canon of truth.” It is first the “rule of faith,” transmitted to the initiated. But this regula fidei (Tertullian, Irenaeus) implies the very faculty of receiving it. “The heretics who have perverted the rule of truth,” St. Irenaeus wrote, “preach themselves when they believe that they are preaching Christianity (Adversus haereses, Book III). This faculty is the personal existence of man, it is his nature made to assimilate itself to divine life – both mortified in their state of separation and death and vivified by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Faith as ontological participation included in a personal meeting is therefore the first condition for theological knowledge” (Lossky, Introduction to Orthodox Theology; https://fatherstephen.wordpress.com/2009/03/04/vladimir-lossky-on-faith/).

        This has very practical consequences. I occasionally find some doctrinal matter difficult to accept, but I recognize my limitations and ignorance, and I remind myself of my trust in God. That trust is far stronger, more real, and more obvious to me than the truth of particular doctrines (some of which appear false). And so, in accepting that God is the architect of all reality, I do not fret too much in my ignorance and confusion (see Prof. Smith’s wise comments above) and hope that the puzzle will become clear down the road. It often does.

      • As I mentioned earlier, I am chary of cut and dry definitions of faith since they magnify one aspect of this complex beast at the expense of all the others. I will, nevertheless, put in a word for a gut feeling of trust in the spokesmen. This gut feeling can be cruelly manipulated by conniving con men, and the Christian faith has plenty of repulsive spokesmen, but I had this gut feeling of trust in some Christians even when I was a non-believer. I could describe it most simply as the non-triggering of my natural Grifter Alarm System. Or, to shift to a Tolkien analogy, my Sting didn’t begin to glow. I am well aware that the Rationalists can explain this in terms of my early upbringing and resultant psychology, but that explanation is the very sort of thing that sets the red light on my GAS blinking, and that causes my Sting to glow. It seems to me that there is always something “off” about an atheist, particularly an assertive atheist.

  8. As your faithful Occultist reader, I feel bound to speak up.

    Yes, Angels, Demons and Witches exist. So do the Spirits of Japanese or Indian folklore and the Greek pantheon.

    Doesn’t mean that they are all caught up in the war of Christ and Antichrist. The spiritual reality isn’t one – dimensional. In fact, has infinitely many dimensions, with all spirits, including humans, having their own personal direction to follow – such is the true will of God, of Khaos.

    The War that rages is that some forces try to pull everyone in their direction. This War is fought by following one’s own Fulfilment, regardless of what other spirits tell you, be it Christ, Leftism or LaVey.

    What arguments do you have against this position?

    • Anarchism is a self-refuting doctrine, since it cannot stop the spirit that finds its Fulfillment in domination. Anarchism lacks the organizational and intellectual means to preserve itself. The moment it organizes or frames an argument against the spirit that finds its Fulfillment in domination, it ceases to be anarchic and becomes domineering.

      Another objection to anarchism is that we discover our true self in struggle, not freedom. Opposition to the will is good because it forces us to discard our frivolous desires and deepen our commitment to the things we are willing to fight for. Struggle does not crush our individuality, it is how we become who we are.

      • Thanks for your answer, JMSmith. I feel like your first objection — at least in regard to my position — is refuted by your second.
        “Anarchism […] cannot stop the spirit that finds its Fulfillment in domination.” Correct, but I do not argue for anarchism. I argue for everyone following their Fulfilment — and clashing if conflict arises.
        As you yourself say “Opposition to the will is good because it forces us to discard our frivolous desires and deepen our commitment to the things we are willing to fight for.”
        There are inherently two God-given Tasks to each spirit: Discover their Fulfilment (“True Will” in Crowley’s terms) and Follow it.
        As you know, to want an end is to want the necessary means. So if A finds his Fulfilment in domination, he will try to follow that, and B will have to resist. Perhaps by allying with C and D to remove A from their path — by any means neccesary, as A stands in the way of their Task. Since God too apparently holds the view “Struggle does not crush our individuality, it is how we become who we are.”, there is no contradiction here. The War itself is God-given.
        My point is simply that this war has many directions, not just Christ and Antichrist. The Japanese spirits (to take a random example) take no side in that one and neither does the Greek pantheon. Even the Demons, if you read what the actual people who talk to them write, care rather little about Christ and Antichrist.
        I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading the Screwtape Letters, thanks to the Orthosphere, but one shouldn’t take this onedimensional worldview as actual truth.
        Let me try a different angle: Christians know that Guardian Angels exist. Occultists know too. However, only the latter are found to be conversing with them. Why? Because your Guardian Angels would tell you that your True Will is different from Christ’s and you don’t want to hear that.
        My Angel and I find Fulfilment in Doing Magick, which according to your Church is sin in itself, even if I only use it to help my loved ones and enjoy life. So, should I listen to the Church or a Messenger of God? To ask the question is to answer it.
        Of course you have to say that any angel who says that is a demon and any spirit at all that isn’t aligned with Christ is a demon. But what arguments do you have for that position? Revelation? Then it’s your revelation against mine – and mine is personal while yours is likely from a book.
        Looking forward to further answers.

      • As a practical matter, you and I may not be all that far apart. I don’t have articulate theories about it, but simply know from experience that every individual has an individual telos, and that they can succeed (more or less) or fail at becoming “the person they were meant to be.” I call this “following your joy,” which is kind of saccharine and not at all original, but which nevertheless seems more or less accurate. Perhaps our major difference is that I have a strong sense that, while “following his joy,” an individual can go down the path of diabolical joy. This of course means that every individual has not one telos, but two. Our symbols for these two possible ends are, of course, Heaven and Hell, Christ and Antichrist.

        I am quite sensible to the fact that this binary thinking may simply reflect the wiring of by brain. I am not a “black-and-white” thinker, but neither am I what we might call a “polychromatic” thinker. If individuals can be “on the right path” or “on the wrong path,” there must be something essentially right about those “right paths.”

        Some Christians believe in “guardian angels,” others do not. The notion of a tutelary spirit is, of course, pre-Christian, and many Christians reject it as pagan nonsense. I have had enough narrow escapes to speak in the common way about a “guardian angel,” and good and bad notions naturally come into my head, but I have no sense of my tutelary spirit being a sort of genie. Maybe my tutelary spirit is lazy. Maybe I am an incompetent magi. I sometimes feel that a spirit is influencing me, but I never feel that I am influencing a spirit.

        When I feel a spirit is influencing me, I naturally interpret that experience using concepts I have learned. Some of these are biblical, and some are the residue of half-remembered and desultory reading in a very miscellaneous literature. Some of my strongest experiences occurred many years ago, when my worldview was largely made of an ill-digested amalgam of Buddhism and Shamanism. It may have been due to an unconscious retention of Christian dualism received in childhood, but I perceived those spiritual influences dualistically. I have no “argument” for why this must have been so, only the fact that it was. The old Christian symbol of “a smell of sulphur” fit my experience exactly.

        Also the old Christian notion that we all have a capacity to enjoy the smell of sulphur, and declare that it is fragrant.


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