The Sensory Basis of Intuition: A Role for the Classical Elements in 21st Century Magick

© 2017 R. Eugene Laughlin
All Rights Reserved


Note that the following is, in some ways at least, a revision and/or elaboration of a previously published document, which is still available in its original form here. A revision of the theoretical part of the original document follows, while the practicum is taken up in another document.  

The term, Magick, means many things to many people. For some, the idea of magick includes the power to subvert or sidestep nature and what most people perceive as natural limits, such as recognized natural laws or genuinely random events: such as gravity, typhoons, earthquakes, etc. The fantastic lore of magick that promotes such notions is inspiring and inherently valuable. It’s furthermore reasonable to assume that striving after such powers may yield countless rewarding learning experience, whether the aspirant achieves power over such phenomena or not.

The potential benefits of pursuing grand powers notwithstanding, the everyday magick practiced by most contemporary magicians leans toward more commonplace concerns, where earthquakes and the likes are rather useless: satisfying employment; developing and promoting satisfying relationships; resolving family, friend, or neighbor disputes; promoting health and well-being of self and others; unraveling undesirable legal entanglements; favorable outcomes from interacting with social institutions, such as schools, governmental regulators and inspectors, law enforcement; etc.

The system at hand is specifically tuned for a quality of life approach to magick, as opposed to a quest for grand powers. That’s not to say that the effects of good magick practiced for lifestyle aims aren’t inherently uncanny and ever-astounding. The following sentiments, variously voiced in several Medieval manuscripts is consistent with the underlying assumptions of the current system:

Magick is the highest, most Absolute, most Divine Knowledge of natural Philosophy, advanced in its works and wonderful operations by a right understanding of the inward and occult virtue of things; so that true agents being applied to proper patients, strange and admirable effects will thereby be produced. Whence magicians are profound and diligent searchers into Nature; they, because of their skill, know how to anticipate an effort (or effect), the which to the vulgar shall seem to be a miracle

Another, much more succinct and modern sentiment that reflects similar ideas is that good magick seems like extraordinary good luck to the casual observer. That idea is supported by the observation that practicing magicians seem to be in the right place at the right time, doing the right things for an advantageous outcome to manifest, more so than chance would allow. That’s an admittedly prosaic notion compared to pulling lightning bolts from the sky, but suffice it to say that a truly uncanny sequence of events that solves a real and imminent problem feels no less miraculous.

The Role of Intuition in Magick

Accepting that the generalized effect of a good magick practice will typically manifest as a being in the right place at the right time sort of thing, a theoretical underlying mechanism that allows for it starts with extraordinary intuition, which might otherwise be specified as uncommon pattern recognition. The general idea is that people are naturally very good at recognizing patterns in how things typically behave and interact, how things tend to go, etc. We naturally form expectations from experience, which serve as the basic guide for useful behavior. There’s nothing remarkable or magical about that. What a good magick practice should do though, is elevate the practitioner’s intuition well beyond the norm, so that the magician may anticipate an effect in service of seemingly miraculous outcomes.  

Basic pattern recognition processes are so commonplace, they tend to run in the background of a person’s mind, scarcely approaching the level of conscious thought or decision a good deal of the time. For a simple example, an experienced driver approaching a four-way stop will register the speed and location of a vehicle approaching from another direction and depending on their relative position will, more or less automatically, speed up or slow down, stop, and go in a seemingly coordinated manner with the other driver. The process is readily understood as driver’s intuition: because of their skill they know how to anticipate an effort or effect. The pace of the interaction described above is slow enough to allow for conscious processes to run in parallel to the intuitive processes, but it’s worth recognizing that the conscious processes may or may not be necessary for a successful outcome. Consider that an experienced driver can often respond appropriately to a sudden unexpected hazard well before a conscious thought has time to form.

Again, there is nothing magical about the driving examples, but they do represent a starting point for understanding some of the key principles at the heart of the present theory. The driver develops good driver’s intuition through driving experience. Notice the domain specificity there. People who don’t drive never have the opportunity to develop driver’s intuition, and of course, they don’t need it. A magician’s intuition, however, has to be more general than that, and has to reflect the same basic intuition anyone would be expected to develop from living life in the same world. The fundamental difference between magicians and the general population isn’t the domain of expertise, it’s the degree. If that idea is accepted, the key to understanding the magician’s superior intuitional expertise is in the things magicians do that others don’t do.    

A Sensory Language of Intuition

The concept known today as the Classical Elements are in a significant way at the root of the Western Esoteric Tradition, stemming from pre-Platonic literature and its forerunners. Plato’s casts the Elements as the raw fundamental substance from which the world was fashioned (the Timeaus). The application of the Classical Elements in the current system, however, is more in keeping with the Aristotle’s treatment (On Generation and Corruption). Further, in some respects, the methods of the current system are modeled after Aristotle’s methods: striving to understand the unobservable (occult) through empirical experience. With that in mind, Aristotle defined the Classical Elements in terms of basic sensory qualities of relative heat and moisture, well-characterized in this schematic:

The key relationships to note are that each Element can be understood as a unique combination of two binary sensory qualities: Hotness-Coolness and Moistness-Dryness. The arrangement of Elements and their sensory qualities also illustrates systematic affinities and oppositions: Fire shares Hotness with Air and shares Dryness with Earth. Air and Earth also each express an opposing quality of Fire, Moistness and Coolness, respectively. Finally, each Element is directly opposed to one other Element, sharing no common quality: Fire and Water are in complete opposition (Hot-Dry vs. Cool-Moist), as are Air and Earth (Hot-Moist vs. Cool-Dry).    

A primary supposition of the current system is that the magician can elevate their intuitive capacity above and beyond the norm. The general method applied to that goal is to learn to interpret one’s own internal state in novel ways, learning to read the [intuitive] signals in service of being in the right place at the right time more often than chance allows. The specific method is a program of associative processes that shares many qualities with learning a new language. The intended effect is bind the internal experience of the sensory qualities of the Elements to external phenomena.

Bear in mind that the English-speaking world already has relevant linguistic associations with those sensory qualities, evident in various idioms: hot under the collar, cool as a cucumber, dry bones, wet behind the ears. That level of encoding, however, won’t enhance intuition beyond the norms. Remember, what makes magicians different from the average person are the special things that only magicians do. Developing a more comprehensive language of intuition that allows for a truly magical lifestyle requires extraordinary work. And in the current system, that work begins with a series of associative Elemental Exercises.   


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