Author Archives: Maerian

Pt.4-Magic 299-Grounding Earth religions & Human Potential philosophies

Wow! This Has Been Getting Interesting!

I’ve been working  for awhile now on this project. I don’t think I realized how interesting it would be for me personally to approach the wide-ranging material on Classical Western philosophy with a specific focus and intent rather than considering it more broadly. I find myself following tangential informational paths of interest, and then having to reel myself back in to seek the specific threads that relate to the two axioms that prompted this exploration. I have been spending my early mornings, some of my lunches and most of my nights and weekends in a sea of amazing ancient writings, thoughts and information.

When I began this project it was almost on a whim that grew out of a periodic “pet peeve” I have with credulity, blanket statements, and claims about “truth” or “what is”. I had also noticed a general tendency among many modern Pagans and New Age thinkers to base their actions, including spiritual, religious, and magical practices, upon a cluster of significant ideas without necessarily knowing where those ideas come from. I realized that we can use a pen without knowing how ink is made; we can type on our computers without needing any understanding of motherboards and electrons, but I also knew that information specific to an understanding of where our ideas come from can be enriching and powerful. I also knew that I was uncomfortable with the two axioms I’ve chosen to explore here, again, these are: the belief or assertion that we “create our own realities” and the claim that each individual is 100% responsible for all occurrences in their lives. I even knew, albeit rather foggily, why I had these concerns, and I had some unrefreshed memory about where the ideas come from, possible alternative interpretations, useful aspects in spiritual or magical practice, and risks and logical fallacies. However, as I said this understanding was “foggy” and the context was “unrefreshed”. Cleaning the philosophical spectacles has been very inspiring.

What’s personally been really entertaining is the focused revisiting and the discovery of new ( to me) information about early metaphysical and Pagan philosophy. I have to say, I’m loving it. Philo Sophia.


At the same time, part of me is feeling impatient–I know I need to get the underlying and foundational ideas out there and into some sort of perspective before I can begin to really think about and discuss aspects of these two axioms, but I keep wanting to jump ahead to the analysis and I haven’t even gotten out of the Classical era yet. And there are all those German philosophers who weighed in on this, and then there are the more recent roots of modern esoteric thought! However, I will keep plugging away at this, get the hereditary roots of magical philosophy onto the page and then, I get the feeling I’ll have a wild adventure synthesizing the meanings.

So, without further ado, the next installment:

Neoplatonism and the Rise of Christianity

This post is the fourth in a discussion and criticism of the roots, context, spiritual and philosophical significance of the widespread related axioms of reality formation, i.e. “We create our own realities” and “responsibility assumption”, or the belief that all individuals are 100% personally responsible for what happens in their lives. I will again provide links for further detail from Wikipedia and elsewhere.

The previous post examined later Hellenic and Hellenistic Classical thinking that can be seen as related in a foundational manner to our two topics, particularly looking at Stoicism and Skepticism. Towards the later period in question, the rise of Christianity in Rome dramatically impacted the previously poly- and pantheistic Western perspectives.

was last in the line of Classical Pagan philosophies. Synthesizing the work of Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics and the esoteric interpretations of classical Hellenic mathematics and practices from Pythagoras, Neoplatonic thought blended philosophical, mythical and metaphysical concepts and served as a last bastion of Hellenic Paganism during the rise of an increasingly hostile monotheistic and Christian dominance. Neoplatonic thought can be seen as not just an eclectic approach to Hellenic philosophical concepts but a synthesis of many of the most important ideas. Aristotle’s logic and philosophical method are oddly countered by a Skeptism particularly of empirical knowledge. Neoplatonism’s desire to aspire to goodness and virtue through a metaphysical dialectic is derived from Plato’s Socratic Dialogs. Neoplatonic thought also draws from Stoic ethics while sharing the Stoic perspective of the action of the Divine in Nature as well as Stoic interpretations of the origin of matter. Neoplatonic thought is important to a discussion of the roots of our two axioms of reality formation and 100% personal responsibility for outcomes in our lives, partly because of ways in which Neoplatonism informed the much later development of Theosophy which will be addressed in another post. Of specific importance to modern ideas about reality formation and personal responsibility for individual outcomes are the Neoplatonic ideas about the relationship of the Soul to extrinsic reality.

A critical Neoplatonic voice is that of Plotinus who felt that engaging in a dialectic allows the Soul to discover its status as an intimate governor of Nature. Plotinus discusses the relation of the individual soul to the All-Soul. He describes the individual soul as independent of the highest Soul to demonstrate how the forgetful soul can fall into an illusion of separation. In The Enneads however he specifically insists that the individual soul and the All-Soul are one and that Nature is the Soul’s expressive act. Plotinus posited that the Universe is an analogue of the experience of the Soul, and he developed a system by which the Soul naturally comes to know itself in relation to its acts, which results in the attainment of full self-consciousness.

Specifically, it is in Neoplatonism that we see an effort to clarify how individual souls can directly engage with Nature through dialectic. While some believed that is impossible to understand Divine Nature through reason, and the soul is therefore not capable of rising to a Platonic goal of perfect knowledge beyond change, Neoplatonic thinkers posited that it is through the dialectic that the soul attempts to recover from its forgetfulness of Divinity and once again know reality.

“God is not external to anyone, but is present within all things, though they are ignorant that he is so.” –Plotinus

Specifically, Plotinus’ description of the Soul as an essentially creative being which understands existence on its own terms, is of importance to the development of the axioms in question. It is clear that early ideas about reality formation are best expressed in Neoplatonic ideas such as that of Proclus who in Platonic Theology III stated that:

 “The thought of every man is identical with the existence of every man, and each is both the thought and the existence”.

The origins of Neoplatonism can be traced back to the era of Hellenistic syncretism which also spawned such movements and schools of thought as Gnosticism and the Hermetic tradition. A major factor in this syncretism, and one which had an immense influence on the development of Platonic thought, was the introduction of the Jewish Scriptures into Greek intellectual circles via the translation known as the Septuagint. The encounter between the creation narrative of Genesis and the cosmology of Plato’s Timaeus  set in motion a long tradition of cosmological theorizing.

Because this “Magic 299” discussion takes as its particular focus the philosophical context for modern eclectic and primarily non-montheistic individuals in the Neo-Pagan, Magical, New Age and Gaian communities, I am not going to spend a lot of time exploring monotheistic viewpoints unless they directly contribute to either of the two axioms in question. For those interested in that there’s a ton of information out there from Islamic, Christian and Jewish religious thinkers and teachers. A good place to start for those who do wish to explore the dominant religious viewpoints is the Pacific School of Religion. I will touch upon Western and Middle Eastern philosophies from around the time of the spread of Christianity that specifically contribute to or shed light upon the two axioms in question.

I closed Part Three with the following sentence:

“As skepticism influenced nearly all other Greek philosophies, Hellenic and later Roman philosophies came to take it for granted that certain knowledge is impossible and they turned to focus upon that knowledge which could be deemed to be true most of the time.”

While I just said above that I am not going to be spending a lot of time on monotheistic perspectives, there is an important issue that applies here. It also allows for a transition from the Paleo-pagan and Neoplatonic thought to later contributions to our topic.

Specifically, I want to talk about how early Christian thought drew upon or rejected the two schools of thought I discussed in part three. Much of the history of early Christian philosophy is an attempt to superimpose the new religion over Greek and Roman philosophical methods which had increasingly embraced Stoicism and Skepticism and the related idea of probable knowledge and uncertainty.

Early Roman Christians faced a dilemma as Christian philosophy was far more concerned with, and even demanded, an absolute and certain knowledge of the divine and of Christian ethical precepts, and this perspective directly contradicts Hellenic and Hellenistic ideas about probable knowledge. It became increasingly important to distinguish between “the true religion” and ideas rooted in various Pagan philosophies. One of the original Christian “missionaries”, Paul of Tarsus, addressed this problem by claiming that he was spreading the knowledge of God, while the knowledge of the Hellenes was “human knowledge” and therefore the knowledge of fools. Christian knowledge, which rejects the human reasoning which might lead to skepticism, was described as the wise knowledge. This approach resulted in Christianity taking a strong anti-rational position from its inception.

The Christians were competing however with a very well-established and powerful cluster of beliefs and philosophies. As with the destruction, usurpation and re-purposing of Pagan sculpture, art, architecture and temples, what early Christians could not destroy they chose to preempt. Much of the history of early Christian theology and philosophy is therefore an attempt to superimpose the new religion over Greek and Roman philosophical methods which were based on Skepticism and probable knowledge.

So early Christian thinkers such as St. Augustine and Boethius adapted some of the Aristotelian, Platonic, and Stoic traditions of Greece and Rome to demonstrate that one could in fact arrive at certain knowledge, at least in matters of Christian religion and divinity.

While Stoicism was regarded by Christians as a pagan philosophy, nonetheless, they did “retool” certain important  terms from that philosophical viewpoint. This includes the use of language such as “virtue “, “spirit “, “conscience ” and “logos “. Additionally, the Christians did not simply borrow a useful terminology from the Stoics. They also embraced and created a synchretic religious perspective based upon shared philosophical beliefs such as the Stoic and Christian concept of an intrinsic free will in the face of extrinsic reality, assertions of a human kinship with God, and a belief in the innate weakness or “evil” of mankind. Both Stoicism and Christianity also advocated restraint of the passions and the “lower” emotions so that human potential could be developed.

This idea of “working on oneself for spiritual betterment” is also tied to modern ideas of personal responsibility and reality formation.

“Withdraw into yourself and look. And if you do not find yourself beautiful yet, act as does the creator of a statue that is to be made beautiful: he cuts away here, he smooths there, he makes this line lighter, this other purer, until a lovely face has grown from his work. So do you also: cut away all that is excessive, straighten all that is crooked, bring light to all that is overcast, labor to make all one glow or beauty and never cease chiseling your statue, until there shall shine out on you from it the godlike splendor of virtue, until you see the perfect goodness surely established in the stainless shrine” –Plotinus

All material included here is copyright Maerian Morris and Westernesste. All rights reserved.

Magic 299–Grounding Earth religions & Human Potential philosophies–Pt. 3

More Hellenic and Hellenistic Contexts for Responsibility & Reality Formation

This post is the third in a discussion and criticism of the roots, context, spiritual and philosophical significance of the widespread related axioms of reality formation, i.e. “We create our own realities” and “responsibility assumption”, or the belief that all individuals are 100% personally responsible for what happens in their lives.

The previous post examined early Classical thinking that is foundational to the question, this post will discuss some slightly more recent Hellenic thinking that also relates. Again, I will provide jump off links from Wikipedia and other useful sites for readers who may wish to explore aspects of these topics in greater detail.

The previous post touched upon intrinsic and extrinsic aspects of our perceptions of cause and reality. Plato placed knowledge in thought, and reality, therefore, in the ideal form. There is a reasonable tendency to perceive an inner and an outer reality, a reality of what is sensed externally–physical reality–and an inner reality of thoughts and feelings. It is not surprising that we conflate extrinsic, or physical reality with the intrinsic consciousness that experiences it. It is also not surprising that over the millennia we have attempted to reconcile deterministic ideas with free will and have argued over both the teleological and causal meanings of the conclusions we draw from our experiences.

In Western Classical thought regarding this, the Stoics directly explored the relationship between free will and determinism finding that the most desirable path is one that incorporates will that acts in accordance with laws of Nature. Philosophy then, became practice.

Of course, in order to act in accordance with Nature’s laws, one would have to know what they are. This would, the Stoics taught, require one to develop logic, ethics, and self control to bring negative thoughts and emotions under control and allow for accurate perception and interpretation of logos, or the divine animating principle pervading the Universe.

This divine animating principle of logos (which also to the ancient Greek meant language and reason) was seen to be a primordial and material element of fire. This tangible, material flame of being was combined by the Stoics with Hellenic pantheistic ideas and the fire came to be seen as an expression of a primal and causal divinity. All things were seen to be composed of this divine flame including the human soul.

At the same time, the Stoics saw this Divinity as reason. Reason was seen as the expression of the Divine Fire, or in other words the Fire is a rational element. Extrapolating from this pervasive divine reason, the Stoics determined that there is a harmonious, divine order and purpose to the universe and that this design is embodied in an absolute law of Nature. The Stoics therefore came down on the side of determinism over free will. Our acts may be chosen and voluntary but they are governed by a necessity born in Divine Nature.

Stoic ethics then, are composed of two principles:

One, that there are no exceptions to the governing Law of the Universe;
Two, that human nature is based in reason.

These principles are both articulated in the important Stoic maxim: “Live according to Nature.” This was seen to mean that humans should conform themselves to the laws of the universe and learn to pay attention to and act upon their own essential nature to be found in and through reason.

An important stoic contribution to ethics and to our ultimate topic of personal responsibility and reality formation can be found in the Stoic belief that it is an individual’s responsibility to be virtuous and that this virtue arises out of reason in harmony with Nature.

In criticisms of stoicism we can also find ideas that will be of use later in our discussion of reality formation and personal responsibility.

One problem with Stoicism involves the logical paradox to be found in their concepts of free will and determinism particularly when expressed in terms of a belief in predestination. If all is predestined then arguments to personally develop or to cultivate indifference seems paradoxical.

Another problem can be found in the question of the social consequences of a widespread Stoic encouragement of a cultivated indifference and a concern that such indifference defies reason. Indifference if practiced widely would appear heartless: a father would not appear affected by death of his child, and for all of us to encourage within ourselves an apparent uncaring, even sociopathic callousness seems paradoxical with what we see in natural law. A likely outcome might be an apathetic approach to life which might manifest in neglect of family or social responsibility. It is often because we love and care and suffer when we see others suffer that we are motivated to take action to protect ourselves and others.

There is some indication in Stoic texts which suggest that the Stoics did attempt to address the paradoxical conflict between a deterministic universal causality and free will. There is an excellent discussion that delves more deeply into these issues and Stoic ethics and philosophy of mind at The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy . They point to the following texts which indicate a mitigated or “soft” determinism:

“Chrysippus used the illustration of a cylinder rolling down a hill as an analogy for actions that are within our control (Cicero and Gellius, 62C-D). It is true that the force that starts its motion is external to it. This is analogous to the impressions we have of the world. But it rolls because of its shape. This is analogous to our moral character. When our actions are mediated by our characters, then they are ‘up to us’. Thus, if I see an unattended sandwich and, because I am a dishonest person, steal it, then this is up to me and I am responsible. All things come about by fate but this is brought about by fate through me(Alex. Aphr. 62G). When, however, I trip and fall, knocking your sandwich to the floor, this is not up to me. The chain of causes and effects does not flow through my beliefs and desires.”

This analysis is also important in our later consideration of ideas about total personal responsibility for all outcomes.

There were also contemporary criticisms of Stoic philosophy. A great examination of this and of Stoicism in general can be found at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which points to the arguments of Galen, Posidonius, and Cicero:

“The medical writer and philosopher Galen defended the Platonic account of emotions as a product of an irrational part of the soul. Posidonius, a 1st c. BCE Stoic… (criticized) …the psychology of emotions, and developed a position that recognized the influence in the mind of something like Plato’s irrational soul-parts. The other opposition to the Stoic doctrine came from philosophers in the Aristotelian tradition. They,like the Stoics, made judgment a component in emotions. But they argued that the happy life required the moderation of the passions, not their complete extinction. Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations, books III and IV take up the question of whether itis possible and desirable to rid oneself of the emotions.”

Disputes over knowledge and truth in ethics and philosophy gave birth to the Skeptic tradition (Stanford Encyclopedia discusses Skepticism here and Wikipedia’s entry is here. The Skeptic tradition can be traced back to Pyrrho of Elis who found himself frustrated and overwhelmed by the attempt to sort out rationally which school of thought had the right approach. Developing  distrust of the lofty and complicated language involved in trying to understand issues of causation Skeptics decided to drop the nonsense and advocate instead the seeking of ataraxia, or peace of mind. They claimed that as it did not appear to matter whether you believed in a particular tradition or not, as people who were unaware of the disputes appeared to get along quite well without knowing the details about them. They also pointed out that faith and belief in intelligible realities is not required in order for them to “work” and that as it is impossible to directly perceive causation or purpose, it was therefore a waste of time to try.

There are two basic precepts that arose out of this thinking: that there is no such thing as certainty in human knowledge, and that all human knowledge is only probably true, that is, it might not be true, or it might be true much of the time, but not always.

As skepticism influenced nearly all other Greek philosophies, Hellenic and later Roman philosophies came to take it for granted that certain knowledge is impossible and they turned to focus upon that knowledge which could be deemed to be true most of the time.

All material included here is copyright Maerian Morris and Westernesste. All rights reserved.