Form is the Illusion is a book about Relationship Theory, an unusual system of metaphysics developed by the late David Douglas Thompson. Relationship Theory addresses questions of ontology and epistemology in a way that is likely to be of interest to pagans and occultists.
Form Is The Illusion: A Magical Philosophy (1)
Magic has been intellectually disreputable for a very long time now. The world we have created together is so thoroughly disenchanted that the phrase “magical thinking” describes a fallacy, an error of logic that assumes causality where there is no causality and imagines personality where there is no personality. We inhabit a world without any magic in it, a change in perception so fundamental we can no longer imagine our own ancestors without thinking of them as fools.
The effects of this worldview are increasingly destructive, and the scale of the destruction increasingly threatening. By convincing ourselves and each other that the world was inanimate, we gave ourselves and each other permission to murder it.
In giving ourselves permission to murder our world we may have begun the process of mass suicide. If we cannot find a way to restore some form of animism, the ability to relate to everything as a being with agency, then our future as a species seems precarious and bleak. If magic itself is only a fallacy, then the negative consequences of disenchantment are sadly irrelevant. A true proposition does not become false simply because it has harmful consequences. But what if the harmful proposition is also questionable in the first place? What if enchantment is a more useful working assumption than disenchantment?
Occultists have often defined magic in purely instrumental terms, as the ability to impose change on reality through an act of will. This is not what I mean by magic. Traditional magical practices are intended to produce results, but they include underlying assumptions about reality that are much more than a mere set of techniques for controlling what happens. These assumptions include the following core ideas:
- That the world and everything in it is in some sense alive, even if this life is more sentient in some forms and less sentient in others.
- That there is no hard boundary between life and death, only a transformation from one state to another.
- That all entities have some form of agency: people, animals, vegetation, natural elements, complex systems and emergent patterns.
- That it is possible to engage in relationship with any of these entities.
- That there are methods for doing so, many of which use symbolism and ritual behavior as a type of language.
These assumptions are at the heart of many magical practices, but because they are assumptions they are usually not stated or debated but simply acted on. The philosophical examination of these assumptions could be described as “magical philosophy,” the theme of this work.
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa’s Three Books of Occult Philosophy provided generations of magicians with a mental framework for their practices – an elaborate structure of ideas combining Christian Neoplatonism, astrology and the ancient pagan gods. To work effectively within this system, the magician would have to be able to completely inhabit Agrippa’s worldview. Living in a society with a very different perspective on reality, this is no longer easy for us. From childhood onward we are told that magic isn’t real, that the gods don’t exist, that visions and ecstasies are not to be trusted. We are always aware of other worldviews – fundamentalist religions, skeptical materialism and other claims on our headspace. We either distrust all claims to absolute truth, or we latch on to one of them with the fervor of someone who knows he can never truly believe.
If we want to escape this labyrinth and experience some magic, we need a theory that accounts for the world we live in today. The ideas in this work derive from a notebook written by my father David Douglas Thompson around 1984, containing cryptic formulae on the subject of metaphysics. These formulae seek to explain the patterns governing the interactions between all entities, the source-code or deep structure of reality as he saw it. He claimed to have been given this gnosis in a dream or vision, but the formulae themselves are simply philosophical propositions. Their application to questions of magic and pagan theology is only one small part of the idea.
My father referred to his system as Relationship Theory, because it treated relationships as the base-unit of reality. However, he was highly reticent to share or even fully explain his ideas in his own lifetime. Shortly before his death in 2006, he discussed the possibility of collaborating on a book to explain his concept, but died soon after and was unable to do so. The only record of his theory is in two short sets of notes. “The Ten Laws” presents the basic principles of the concept, although not in systematic form. “Notes on Relationships” presents the change formulae.
(Next: A Metaphysics of Relationship)
Image by Evelyn de Morgan