Why Has Magical and the Occult Thinking Been Around For So Long?

I previously wrote about The Power of Magic and I wanted to look more closely at Magic and The Occult. In particular, I wanted to better understand the thinking behind magic and occult methods because (for some reason) they have survived for millennia and (I would assume) have been useful to some people.

I started reading Elementary Treatise of Occult Science and came across what is named the “Law of the Ternary.” It seems to be a sort of categorical exercise where you group things into three categories. The “active term” the “passive term” and the “neutral term” and the neutral term is the thing that results from the action of the first two upon each other. And so for example you have…

Male and Female -> Child
Heat and Cold   -> Warmth
Attraction and Repulsion -> Equilibrium

In addition, these categorizations can be connected to mathematics where you have the analogous expression 1+2=3. The active term being 1, the passive term being 2, and the resulting neutral term being 3. But it seems the mathematical connection can take other forms too. For example, Pythagoras categorized “God” (active term) as 1, “Matter” (neutral term) as 2, and instead of adding, he concatenated them together to get 12 which he used to express the neutral term for the “Universe”. (Maybe he forgot to cast his strings to numbers when adding).

Moving along, a Ternary can be further categorized, e.g. Father-Mother-Child could be categorized as “Family”. This is called a “Quaternary” which is represented with the number 4. This categorization is called the “Unity of the Ternary” or the “Return to Unity”. The Quaternary is a higher order idea that expresses the lower order ides of the Ternary.

The connection between the categories and the math seems to be pretty important to this branch of occult philosophy so I’ll just briefly mention it.

The numbers associated with the categories are 1, 2, 3, and 4.

“Theosophic Addition” is basically summing all of the numbers from 1 to some other number. So for example, for some number n, you solve n*(n+1)/2.

Using Theosophic Addition and Theosophic Reduction (basically a calculation of the base 10 digital root), you can represent the “Return to Unity”.

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10
1 + 0     = 1

So the Quaternary term “Family” is 4, but can also be represented as an active term (1) in some new Ternary.

I continued reading and there was a bunch of magic, superstition, and philosophical minutia to wade through. My final conclusion: the occult loved categorization, numerology, and pattern matching. As for the intrinsic usefulness of occult science, I don’t see it.

But I wanted to get a broader look at magic and the occult over time, so I read A History of Magic, Witchcraft, and the Occult. This book gave a much broader view of magical beliefs throughout history and geography. And after reading about all of the beliefs systems and how they rose and fell and morphed over time, my conclusion is most in-line with the ideas of Chaos Magic.

Chaos magic rejects the existence of absolute truth, and views all occult systems as arbitrary symbol-systems that are only effective because of the belief of the practitioner.Chaos magic thus takes an explicitly agnostic position on whether or not magic exists as a supernatural force, with many chaos magicians expressing their acceptance of a psychological model as one possible explanation.

Meaning that if “magic” actually does something for you, it’s because you adopted or engineered a belief system that modifies how you interact with the world around you. It also “works” because you’re creating situations for nocibo or placebo to take effect.