I suspect the title I chose for this entry is a little far reaching for what I’m actually going to say. To truly treat on the psychology of magic would take a full textbook, cross referencing scientific and historical research, and so forth. Such a thing is already being undertaken, actually–while I’m not aware of any such secular textbook, I know that one of my coveners is taking a college course on Ritual, Magic, & Witchcraft as part of her studies in anthropology, and much of what she is being taught is steeped in conventional psychology. I always look forward to hearing what insights her professor has to impart, and I would not be surprised if there IS such a textbook. If you know of one, dear reader, I’d love to hear of it.
However, nearly all books on Paganism and the occult sciences are rife with references to psychology: concepts of the archetype, the effects of meditation on the body, the purpose of ritual, dream interpretation and symbolism. While not academic treatises in psychology, our most well-known tomes incorporate psychology into our philosophy.
This especially became evident to me tonight while I was reading in the tub. I periodically enjoy the soothing, healing effects of a nice hot bubble bath. It makes it easier for me to focus when reading, too, I think because it shuts out so many other stimulating factors. At any rate, I started reading the 6th edition of Israel Regardie’s publication of the teachings of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. In the introduction, the writer refers to their time working with Regardie in the 70’s and 80’s, first under his tutelage in psychotherapy and then later specifically under his tutelage in ceremonial magic. According to the author, Regardie felt that ceremonial magic and psychotherapy were integrally linked in humanity’s effort to understand and tap into the internal self, the soul, whatever you want to call it. This is analogous to how the astrologer preceded the astronomer (though I’m not sure that’s entirely true, that would require a fact check) or the alchemist preceded the chemist as we know it today. Occult science is “undiscovered science,” the precursor to empirical knowledge. Psychology is one of the youngest sciences, and considered more of a social or “soft” science versus the physical or “hard” sciences of biology, physics, chemistry, etc. As ceremonial magic (particularly in Western civilization) accelerated in popularity in the Victorian age, just as psychology was being formally developed, the association of the two seems only natural. Much of the work being done in magical brotherhoods was geared toward self actualization–which is the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
I found this realization especially poignant considering an experience I had in nursing school. For those who aren’t familiar, much like medical school, student nurses have clinical rotations in a variety of disciplines–med/surg, OB, geriatrics, pediatrics, critical care, and, of course, inpatient psychiatry. In my clinical we were to talk to patients, but we did not wear scrubs and did not provide patient care. Rather we practiced therapeutic communication and were to conduct interviews about the patient, their disease process, and develop plans of care for nursing interventions and expectant treatment. On the second day of my rotation I was coming back from observing a group therapy session with my clinical instructor, and the moment we hit the floor I whipped my head around and said, “Something is wrong.”. It was just a feeling, the atmosphere of the floor had changed and become charged with angry energy. My clinical instructor, confused at first, followed my line of sight and saw a nurse standing at the intersection at the end of the hall, facing toward another short hall of patient rooms. There wasn’t anything obviously wrong just by looking at the scene so my instructor started walking toward that nurse–and then we saw it. A patient was agitated and had become increasingly violent, and the staff were working to intervene and keep everyone safe until security could arrive. My instructor just kind of blinked at me and said she was very impressed with my intuition and powers of observation. We talked about it later, and I had been honest and told her that I was Wiccan, trained to sense such things in my environment and to be “tuned in.”. She said this was great and hoped I would put it to use as a psych nurse–a great compliment, but I also think that kind of exposure would be wearying sooner rather than later, and I get to put such skills to use plenty in other fields of nursing. Psych is everywhere to varying degrees.
At any rate, I think it’s important that we are keenly aware of this link between occult science, in my case Wicca, and psychology. It trains us as observers, making us analytical of our environment. Are we truly psychic or just better able to predict human behavior than the untrained? Why do we do what we do if it does not create some effect on our minds, our spiritual and emotional well-being? Many of us are amateur counselors—especially coven leaders and teachers, mentors help to impart wisdom and perspective to those who view us worthy of being listened to. We end up being advice givers: how to craft a spell starts with WHY the spell is needed in the first place, which means sifting through the surface layers of desire to uncover its true nature, much in the same way therapists help their patients to face personal truth. Through magic and ritual we come to face our Gods—and in so doing, we come to face ourselves.