Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ray Sherwin and Sigils Reconsidered

Sigil magick, it would seem, has been an integral part of Chaos magick since its beginnings in the late 1970s. One of the first published works to deal with sigils at some length is Ray Sherwin’s The Book of Results. In this work Sherwin articulates not only a methodology for sigil magick but offers up some theoretical discussion as to how sigil magick works. Having recently reread Sherwin’s discussion, I have come to see a disparity between Sherwin’s method of sigil “implantation” within the subconscious and his understanding of the nature of the subconscious.

For Sherwin, who adheres to a psychological model of magick, the source of magickal efficacy is the subconscious mind, not some external “gaseous invertebrate” dwelling within the ether. As such, it behooves the reader to comprehend Sherwin’s understanding of the subconscious and its relation to the conscious mind. Much of what Sherwin sets forth concerning the nature of the mind is taken from or based upon a model of the mind known as dianetics. Simply put, dianetics states that at certain moments of unconsciousness or extreme emotional stress the analytic (conscious) mind shuts down and the reactive (subconscious) mind takes over, recording the events of which the conscious mind is oblivious. Dianetics thus provides Sherwin with a model to begin working with the true source of magical power (i.e., the subconscious).

It is Sherwin’s contention that one’s desires can be made to manifest by imbedding them within the subconscious. Unlike the unintentional imbedding of images within the subconscious mind at times of unconsciousness/stress, one’s desires/intents can be intentionally lodged within the subconscious through a particular trance state that paralyzes the conscious/analytic mind. Because the subconscious lacks the ability to reason, Sherwin proffers that one’s desires are best attained when they are first converted into symbols/glyphs/sigils prior to their implantation into the subconscious mind.

Now, my problem with Sherwin is not with his methodology per se, but with what I perceive to be an inconsistency between Sherwin’s technique and his general understanding of the subconscious mind. Sherwin’s technique of sigil embedding is based upon the premise that the subconscious mind only receives images or content at certain times – namely, during certain trance states (intentional imbedding) and during certain moments of stress or unconsciousness. However, this seems to fly in the face of his understanding of the nature of the subconscious as an ever-present recording device.

Sherwin writes,

In effect this (i.e., the unconscious mind) is the only part of the mind which is constantly vigilant and aware, even during deep sleep and unconsciousness. It is a store of memory inconceivable in size. No experience, no matter how often repeated or how insignificant, is unrecorded. All the data about your past are there …. (Sherwin, p. 34; italics mine)

This position clearly militates against the need for a technique to embed a symbol/glyph/ sigil within the subconscious mind. Being that the subconscious mind is all-seeing/all-recording the use of trance or ritual to deliver a message to the subconscious becomes superfluous. Even the necessity of the conversion of intent into a glyph become suspect, as the subconscious mind would have recorded the thought-intent prior to the glyphs construction.

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