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 (2)
Relationship Theory is both a theory of knowledge and a theory of being.
The ontology of Relationship Theory can be summarized in the phrase “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.” In other words, the theory draws no distinction between different forms of existence. Material objects and mental objects are both referred to as “zeds,” or entities capable of being in relationship. The theory concerns itself only with the interaction between these zeds, without assessing which of them can be said to have some sort of objective validity and which cannot. The question of whether a particular zed “really exists” is treated as irrelevant because it is inherently unknowable.
We are constantly taught to doubt the reality of our own spiritual experiences – some of the most meaningful and beautiful experiences we have as human beings. Traditional religions teach us to question them as potentially demonic, while skeptical materialism teaches us to dismiss them as mere illusions. The constant presence of both these ideas is a barrier to experiencing real magic, because we cannot simply inhabit the worldview of our ancestors for whom the reality of the spiritual world was totally unquestioned. Rather than vainly attempting to inhabit a mental space we can no longer reach (and producing weak magic as a direct result), we can simply step around the barrier.
Interactions are the reality, so our relationship with the magical world is all that matters. Form is the illusion, so questions about its real nature are simply not relevant.
The epistemology of Relationship Theory can be summarized in the phrase “always ring the changes.” Because no distinction is drawn between different types of entity, it is taken for granted that there will always be many different possible ways of understanding the universe. Some of these worldviews work better than others, but there is no valid reason to arbitrarily choose between equally functional worldviews.
Rather than picking a worldview and sticking to it, the Theory encourages us to shift playfully between different worldviews, like bell-ringers changing the patterns while ringing church bells. This approach is basically the same as the practice of paradigm shifting in Chaos Magic. This is only to be expected, because both approaches are steeped in the postmodern experience. However, the application is somewhat different. In Chaos Magic, the magician is encouraged to completely adopt one worldview at a time, shifting between them as needed but believing in each one as deeply as possible while using it. The change-ringer is encouraged to hold on to the echoes of one worldview even while playing with the next, so that seemingly contradictory truths are held in the mind at the same time.
The change formulae of Relationship Theory describe how zeds interact with each other, and in what circumstances these interactions can change. These formulae provide a philosophical framework for magical experience, a tool for understanding the rhythms of enchantment.
We have a lot of ground to cover here, but we’ll take it one step at a time – first theory, then practice. In the next section, we’ll take a closer look at the ontology of Relationship Theory and the reasoning behind the assertion that “interactions are the reality; form is the illusion.”
(Next: Interactions are the Reality)
Image by Walter Crane
2 thoughts on “A Metaphysics of Relationship”
Hello Christopher. Really enjoyed this piece. I personally struggle with Relationship Theory, as the relationships between zeds appears to me to still rest on the relationality of Things in some-what formalist terms – which is also my main issue with OOO stuff (but I’m enjoying Dark Ecology, so perhaps I’ll grow to like it more). Have you explored Process metaphysics much and if so do they come into your ideas and concepts on metaphysics and anti-/Formalism? Heraclitus, Deleuze and Existentialist stuff was my pathway into Process stuff, just to say.
Thanks Julian. I’m not that familiar with Process metaphysics, if you have any names or links I’d appreciate it.