Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Magical Possibilities In Early Buddhism

Often Buddhism has been portrayed as a rational religion/philosophy devoid of the magical or mystical. When magical practices in Buddhism have been discussed, they have primarily been articulated either within the context of Tantrism or divergent forms of lay practices that have been shaped by outside influences. Nevertheless, magical abilities are well attested in early Buddhist scripture, wherein it has been recorded that the Buddha and many of those who attained liberation (arhat) had acquired several magical or supermundane powers.

In the Pali Sutras the magical abilities of the Buddha and arhats are primarily discussed within the context of two magical groupings – namely, the supernormal powers (iddhi) and the higher knowledges (abhinna) (In the Pali canon the iddhi are oftentimes included among the abhinna).

Most often the supernormal powers (iddhi) appear in standard lists or roughly eight components throughout the Pali scriptures. These are:

1. The ability to multiply one’s body into many bodies and then return to a single body.
2. The ability to become invisible.
3. The ability to pass through solid objects.
4. The ability to rise and sink within the ground.
5. The ability to walk on water.
6. The ability to fly.
7. The ability to touch anything no matter the distance.
8. The ability to travel to the highest realms of existence.
According to Nathan Katz, the supernormal powers (iddhi) are cultivated by means of a practice known as “The Four Steps Leading to Supernormal Power” (cattaro iddhipada).* 

When the supernormal powers (iddhi) are excluded from among their ranks, the higher knowledges (abhinna) are five in number. These are:
1. clairaudience.
2. telepathy.
3. The ability to recall one’s own past lives.
4. The ability to know the karmic destinations of other beings.
5. The knowledge of the extinction of the blockages to liberation.

According to Katz, the higher knowledges (abhinna) begin to arise from absorption (jhana) practices, specifically with the onset of the fifth absorption (jhana).**

*Katz, p. 108.
**Katz, p. 106.

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Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Two Tools For the Eclectic Magician

Working within the confines of a magical tradition has its advantages. One of those advantages is that members are usually given a map of the magical terrain that will be traversed, where already devised rituals are dispensed, magical implements are specifically detailed, entities/powers are enumerated and world views/paradigms are advocated. This does not mean that one’s journey through the magical terrain of a given tradition will be easy. It does, however, mean that the map provided by the tradition will offer its members a means by which they can locate themselves within a magical terrain as well as indicate the pathways by which the landscape may be traversed. Having recognized the usefulness of such maps, I have, over the course of several years, explored various magical traditions in the hopes of finding a system of magical praxis that would provide me with a map or schematic for doing magic. Despite my best efforts, my personal world view has in each instance prohibited me from feeling a sense of compatibility with any particular magical system and the world view it espouses. This state of affairs has made my magical journey an incredibly slow and difficult endeavor. Much like the Borg in the Star Trek universe who go about assimilating life forms into the Collective, I have had to learn to incorporate into my magical repertoire various magical elements that are compatible with the world view or paradigm that I find myself hosting at any given time. As an eclectic magician, I am ever vigilant to discover magical elements that I can incorporate into my ever so slowly expanding magical inventory. I know I am not alone in this endeavor. It is for this reason that I wish to present below two magical items that I have recently constructed. I do not expect these two items to be duplicated by other seeking eclectics, however. Rather, I hope that by sharing these two items I can generate some ideas that will assist the eclectic magician on his or her own magical journey.

The first item is designed to be a home for a servitor who will assist me in penetrating nebulous situations with both insight and foresight. It was constructed from corn starch clay and shaped and painted to look like an open book. On the two pages that lie open I have painted the words “insight” (left) and “foresight” (right) in sigilized form. I used yellow to draw the “insight” sigil on account that this mental ability appears (to me) to be an air element and blue to draw the “foresight” sigil since this mental ability appears (to me) to be a water element. On the back of the book (bottom of object) I have painted a sigilized form of the servitor’s name in green (not shown for security purposes). The color green was chosen on account that the servitor is an entity created from a mixture of both air (yellow) and water (blue) elements.


The second item is designed to trap all negative energies within my house and permit their disposal. It too was constructed from corn starch clay. As the object’s initial objective is to trap the negative energies in my home, it was given a triangular shape (viz., triangle of invocation and spirit trap) and painted black (an absorbing color that is associated with banishing and protection).  To help lure the negative energies to the object some personal artifacts from each of the members of my family were included within the object during its formation. Also, each of the object’s three sides displays the name of a family member in sigilized form in its corresponding astrological color (not pictured for security reasons). The top of the object was constructed in such a fashion that it would easily and securely hold an egg. Once the object draws the negative energies to itself they will become absorbed by the egg, which then can be discarded.