Myth, Metaphor and Magic: The Mystery
by A. C. George
I have heard the assertion that Myth is Metaphor, and there is no shortage of commentary on the topic. It’s obvious to most how entwined folklore and magic are entwined. Even in our day the word “fantasy” as a literary genre is part and parcel with the concept of “magic”. The trend when dealing with that relationship, however, is to use the definition of myth as some sort of fictional account without referring to the importance of metaphor therein (the backbone of mythic structure and purpose in my view).
At the same time myth, metaphor and magic are very different concepts. The loose definition intended in this writing describes myth as a fictional account which embodies entities and phenomena transcending mundane experience. Metaphor is a literary device that takes a word or phrase out of its originally intended context to allude to similarities with the object it is directed to represent. Metaphor tells us that a word is very might like something beyond its literal context without using prepositions of comparison (“like”, “as” etc.).
Magic, on the other hand, is more difficult to pin down. It suffices to use a simple definition such as the following approximation of A. Crowley’s: Magic is the process by which change is manifested at any existential level in conformity with will, through an altered state of consciousness in the one causing it.
To sum up, myth is a story, metaphor is an indirect simile, and magic is making shit happen by will and non-ordinary awareness. Distinct as they are, we can observe each concept contains at least one of the other two. Metaphor is used in myth because myths often describe “supernatural” phenomena, while pointing at something deeper and more complex in nature. Magic is the expression of supernatural phenomena based precisely on the deep and complex concepts to which the metaphors of myth allude.
Metaphors address ideas, slippery in the face of logic and common sense, and give them a familiar and tangible context. We are aware that the description they offer is not “literal”, or point by point accurate. The strokes are broad and the outlines basic. We are aware that mystery is at work as a source of conceptual power that can affect us profoundly whether we can pin it down or not. Metaphor allows us to track it, follow its fluid dance of meaning and discerning some identifiable patterns therein.
Myth can therefore be taken as a weaving of metaphor to describe a mystery in an easy and pleasant to absorb manner. The depth of meaning implied by the mystery embedded in metaphor, however, remains concealed even in the most elaborate mythic tale. If one is to master the esoteric application inherent in myth, one must transcend the obvious and not just embrace, but embody the mystery to translate it into a process of activating the possibilities of magic regarding its impending revelation.
The distillation of effective esoteric practice, be it for purposes corporeal or existentially abstract, is itself tied to a mystery wrapped in an enigma, and hence not readily available to be spelled out in a comprehensive manner. Those who are interested in magical practice, and those who crave corporeal rewards for their efforts, can however be impatient with the details of unfolding esoteric patterning. They can insist on adhering to a point by point recipe for a swift harvest of results. I can’t fault a newbie for this attitude. It was, after all, my own stance for years.
That changed for the simple reason of live and learn. Namely, it is not the most constructive approach. The bottom line is not the point by point process of arcane operation. It isn’t the myth or the web of metaphors that comprise its often-entertaining structure either. It is the mystery embedded within it all. That mystery is nothing less than the power of the deep and abiding dynamic of existence in all its manifestations, as well as the underlying essence at the core of each.
Where the mystery is concerned, however, approaches can be simplified (even when they look complicated). Simplification, as I express it here, is just another description for diving into the most available relationship with said mystery. The relationship can come from the direction of theoretical emphasis or insistence on pragmatic deliberation, depending on a number factors beyond the scope of this discussion.
To get meaningful outcomes, however, both theoretical digestion and real-world action are indispensable. Education, or absorbing intellectual knowledge, is often preferred even when the more challenging path of balancing theory and practice is appreciated and open to the aspirant. Repeated application of occult methods, lead the aspirant into awareness of patterns linking cause to effect. By, furthermore, referencing sources of both theory and the practices of others, they can be inspired to explain those patterns, and hence apply them beyond their original context. Mystery itself, for all its empowering of our resourcefulness, is beyond intellect to comprehend on its own steam.
Mystery is, therefore, beyond the mappings of theory- even as it includes them- and beyond the strategic and tactical meanderings of practice, including them as well. Frustrating as this may be, the defining myth, metaphor and magic can help make sense of the challenge of relating to this thing called “mystery”. Remember that the definition of magic involves extra-ordinary states of awareness. These states of awareness are the fulcrum of practice as well as theory. Mystery is mystery because conventional awareness is not equipped to forge identity with it. Indeed, it is identity with the mystery that powers magic, not rote practice or memorizing its metaphors.
Suffice it to say that mundane existence is as much the mystery as anything out of the ordinary or beyond conventional comprehension. It is, therefore, in how we relate to the proverbial ordinary world that matters. That is why the consistent cultivation of non-ordinary states of awareness is a primary ingredient in stimulating awareness and access to the mystery in all our relations. This is not to be confused with the extremes of “arm-chair” or “rules and tools” occultism. Legends speak of those who could make shit happen without elaborate ritual or much theoretical fanfare. Such individuals were more likely to have mastered non-ordinary states. I am not denying ritual or even ceremony, and intellectual understanding is still a great boon to practice. But the latter becomes comparatively potent when done within the domain of esoterically cultivated awareness.
I have heard it said that magic is supposed to make life easier. I would say its power to make life more meaningful is more important. If magic is just a means to an end, then one misses out, because the mystery at its foundation will be replaced by second hand maps. They may navigate rudimentary territories, but in the end practitioners will probably be disappointed when the free ride doesn’t come.
The depth of the mystery out of which all magic springs and which myth upon myth has touched upon in all its infinite facets is not easily trivialized. Exploring it may not be the only way to make shit happen. In this author’s view, however, it is the most coherent way toward mastery free of intellectual tail chasing and rules and tools dependency. Instead, one might discover horizons of creative potential to express an art that amounts to the embracing of one’s very own truth as a seed of existential possibility and more.