Why Belief Is The Wrong Word To Use

Why Belief Is The Wrong Word To Use

The Renaissance Gallery at the V&A is one of my favourite places in West London

Do you believe in magic? Please.

If I ask you at the right time of day or in a room set to the right temperature you won’t even believe in racial equality.

Ever wonder why it’s so difficult to articulate your beliefs? Because it’s like nailing vomit to a wall.

Ask a black kid to identify their race at a start of an exam and their results will be worse by half, reading lots of ‘sick’ sounding words makes you walk slower or even limp. Needing to pee improves your decision-making ability. Ambient room temperature can affect how much you love your kids. Heavy traffic in the morning causes otherwise reasonable people to adopt anti-immigration beliefs that night.

And if you read this blog then you obviously make some sort of claim to divine contact and yet you’ll still find yourself picking a fight with someone just for the fuck of it.

So then… Belief? Belief in what? And when? Your brain is a ridiculous, amorphous chemical soup. It’s not a reasonable courthouse, it’s not the Library of Congress, it’s not even a solid until after you die.

The purpose of this post is to contribute to Jack’s Super Special Series Of Chaos Magic Examination On The Internetz particularly around a core component of chaos magic: belief shifting. Under no circumstances do I want to bring up any more of that belief malarky that was going around the other week.

Answering one, however, makes my opinion of the other quite clear.

Too often you see chaos magic being criticised for the comparative ‘shallowness’ of our adopted beliefs as if believing something needed to be hard and slow like constipation. Well, not in my little shop.

The unavoidable neurochemical reality of it is that all belief houses are built on shifting sands… If you think for some reason that your beliefs have to feel a bit constipated for magic to somehow ‘work’ then just change the temperature in the room, go for a drive, listen to some TV ads just a little bit too loud… Take your pick.

Those beliefs you think you’ve held for years? You haven’t. You just don’t notice when you don’t have them -they’re like subatomic particles that way. This is how anti-semites can have Jewish friends or orthodox Muslims can work for gays.

You are in every way the worst person to ask about your own cognitive behaviour. Have you been meditating??? You would know this if you had been meditating.

Do you need to believe in magic for it to work? Please again.

Seriously. GO to the V&A.

That’s like asking how many helicopters you need to make the colour blue. Belief is just you being consciously aware of something at that particular time.

Does belief make it work better? Not really. Magic either works or it doesn’t. (Spoiler alert: It does.)

Let me explain: If books on herbalism and colour magic are anything to go by, the magical community loves placebo trials.

When the placebos are shown to work as well as the actual medication, or when a patient improves when an actor in a white coat comes over and looks at a chart by their bed it’s like some kind of weird vindication.

Now, double blind trials cost money. Which mean they end when the funding ends.

Can you guess what happens to the group taking the sugar pills when the novelty wears off and the attention stops? Versus those in the group taking the medication?

So… Were the members of the placebo group “belief shifting”? Because they get worse while those on the real medication get better. (That is, only if the medication actually works. This is a hypothetical best case.)

Did they “belief shift” into thinking the pills were working? And is that a “shallow” chaos magic belief because it only lasted a month? Or because all they did was take a pill each day and otherwise their lives were exactly the same. Should more “work” be involved?

The one belief worth having

The long term value of adopting beliefs isn’t so much the addition of beliefs but the unpicking of the whole idea of holding beliefs.

So-called belief shifting is calisthenics designed to strengthen the underlying proposition: that you can think and do certain things to alter the probabilistic conditions of reality around you.

This is actually what all magic does on the semi-conscious level in a PJC/LMD universe.

Each time you pick up your plastic Jafar-from-Disney’s-Aladdin cobra staff (the silliest thing I have ever used), or throw the bones of a fox you have hunted and killed yourself… Each time you write little squiggles on paper and (hopefully) retire to your room to jack off you are making your world… Bigger.

You are further strengthening the underlying psychological architecture that allows you to live in a world of greater possibility. A world where the dice land in your favour more often, where nothing is denied you because you will not limit yourself.

Chaos magic is… One… Big… Spell.

Why belief is the wrong word to use

We really need to rescue the word “faith” from daytime television and also probably Mariah Carey. One of the most amazing books I have ever, ever read I found in a second hand bookstore in Florence last year. It was a Christian answer to Richard Dawkins, Chris Hitchens, etc. In it Eagleton describes faith in a way I have never seen before… And loved:

There are those nowadays who would regard faith in socialism as even more eccentric than the exotic conviction that the Blessed Virgin Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven. Why then, do some of us still cling to this political faith, in the teeth of what many would regard as reason and solid evidence? Not only, I think, because socialism is such an extraordinarily good idea that it has proved exceedingly hard to discredit, and this despite its own most strenuous efforts. It is also because one cannot accept that this -the world we see groaning in agony around us- is the only way things could be, though empirically speaking this might certainly prove to be the case; because one gazes with wondering bemusement on those hard-headed types for whom all this, given a reformist tweak or two, is as good as it gets; because to back down from this vision would be to betray what ones feels are the most precious powers and capacities of human beings; because, however hard one tries, one simply cannot shake off the primitive conviction that this is not how it’s supposed to be, however much we are conscious that this seeing the world in the light of Judgment Day, as Walter Benjamin might put it, is folly to the financiers and a stumbling block to stockbrokers; because there is something in this vision which calls to the depths of one’s being and evokes a passionate assent there; because not to feel this would not to be oneself; because one is too much in love with this vision of humankind to back down, walk away or take no for an answer.

Faith, then… Is the starting point, not where it ends. This is where Bob Wilson got it wrong. Thinking doesn’t stop with faith, thinking starts with it. I have faith by way of my underlying psychological architecture that I am a magnificent extraterrestrial creature. As long as I am nurturing this faith, What happens after that (so-called belief shifting) is beside the point.

So yeah… Bleat on about the limits of belief shifting if you like. Or worry about whether belief is required for magic to work. I’ll just turn the temperature down until you switch from hating on chaos magic to hating on Asians.

Then I’ll call J’accuse on your ass.


Add yours
  1. 2

    Again and again I find bloggers writing about faith and belief as though they are of the mind. I wrote about this problem in my last post too. We need to rescue these words indeed, I agree. I try not to use belief in its intellectual sense when inappropriate. Belief and faith have traditionally been about love, respect, loyalty- not about intellectual assent.

    It is not about “I believe light travels faster than sound.” It is about “I believe in you because I love you.” The ideas of the mind are not to be so completely identified with- the mind is a trap in that way, though it is a useful tool. Our society has become ever more entrenched in the mind, and the ideas of belief and faith meaning intellectual assent became so much more collectively popular only in the 19th century. Before that, it was love. Both translations are valid, but one is transcendently powerful, and the other is an illusion made out of brain-electricity.

    I think you would really like this video- it is a lecture given by Karen Armstrong in which she discusses the meanings of faith and belief, among other things. She is one of my favorite scholars. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ftuw-kZ8fac&feature=player_embedded#at=3280
    KoraKaos´s last blog post ..Friday- March 25th- 2011 – Defining and Confining God

  2. 3

    I think this is one instance in which chaos magic’s fondness for the term “gnosis” is more than appropriate. There’s a reason why we find ourselves dumbfounded when Christians or non-occultists ask us what we “believe.” Belief is not how we work.

    Also? I think this is my favorite post of yours to date.
    VVF´s last blog post ..April Fools

  3. 5

    “Belief and faith have traditionally been about love, respect, loyalty- not about intellectual assent.
    It is not about “I believe light travels faster than sound.” It is about “I believe in you because I love you.”

    Right on!

    The Dialogue of the Savior — The Nag Hammadi Library – http://bit.ly/1209XMf

    “Then he […] Judas and Matthew and Mary […] the edge of heaven and earth. And when he placed his hand upon them, they hoped that they might […] it. Judas raised his eyes and saw an exceedingly high place, and he saw the place of the abyss below. Judas said to Matthew, “Brother, who will be able to climb up to such a height or down to the bottom of the abyss? For there is a tremendous fire there, and something very fearful!” At that moment, a Word came forth from it. As it stood there, he saw how it had come down. Then he said to it, “Why have you come down?”
    And the Son of Man greeted them and said to them, “A seed from a power was deficient, and it went down to the abyss of the earth. And the Greatness remembered it, and he sent the Word to it. It brought it up into his presence, so that the First Word might not fail.”

    “Then his disciples were amazed at all the things he had said to them, and they accepted them on faith. And they concluded that it is useless to regard wickedness. ”

    They accepted Jesus’s teachings because of the truth he shared. He gave his followers the hard hitting correct information. They were loyal to him because of that fact. Faith is what they gave in return.

    “Judas said, “Tell me, Lord, what the beginning of the path is.”
    He said, “Love and goodness. For if one of these existed among the governors, wickedness would never have come into existence.”

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