IMAGINAL REALITY (Volume One: Journey to the Voids. Volume Two: Voidcraft) by Aaron B. Daniels, Ph.D. with Laura M. Daniels, M.Ac.
I have taken my time to review this book because it has given me so much to think about. Jaded habitué of the magical scene that I am, I am seldom impressed by anything I read these days, but this did it.
There are three main ideas that stand out for me: The Eight Voids that surround our experience of selfhood; the centrality of the structure of moment to moment experience - the 'structure of the now'; and the idea that magic is something much more universal than magicians normally give it credit for.
The declared philosophical attitude of the book is described as existentialist, nihilist and mystical. This sounds like a funny mixture, but it works very well in discussing the limits of what we actually know. The starting point of what we know is what the author refers to as the 'structure of the moment' - that's how to make an existentialist statement with no fixed belief, and it points to a great refreshing of mystical language, away from the swamplands of religious ideology.
This picture is expanded into the eight Voids which surround our sense of self. These Voids serve as almost-constant reminders to re-examine what we think we are. They are the frayed edges of our selfhood, where everything is broken and scary. They open us up to terror and disorientation, and the possibility of magic.
For reasons I can only assume are due to the physical form of the book, Imaginal Reality is divided into two volumes. It doesn't feel like it needs to be - neither would make a satisfactory read on their own. Volume One, Journey to the Voids discusses the first four Voids: Immediacy, Undifferentiation, Madness and Chaos.
Volume Two: Voidcraft deals with the other four: Nothingness, Meaninglessness, Freedom/ Responsibility and Change /Finitude.
It also puts forward in a chapter heading the concept 'That Voodoo that We All Do'. This is Daniels's thesis that every human action is intentional, implying a whole pattern of wishing and desiring that assumes the existence of magic. In other words, magic is not something unusual and special, but is the very basis of our day to day worlds. I quote:
'The premise of this work is that we all yearn for and do magic.'
'Left at odds with the very sublimity that animates every moment, we displace the resulting hunger for a sense of the magical onto other goals, addictions, and distractions. The magic we perform every day hides beneath the countless explanations we foist onto life. In the face of these convincing yet empty explanations, we have turned 'magic' into an exception, a collection of superstitions, a historical backwater, and a cinematic spectacle rather than the very fabric of life as lived.'
In that attitude to magic, Daniels has gone beyond the basic chaos magical model of magic as what we can call 'psychic powers'. So this book could be described as the most iconoclastic magical book ever. This is not the first time I've come across the notion that every action is magical, but it's the first time I've seen it outside of silly newage* or ill thought-through hippie drivel.
Another related strand of thought in this book concerns ethics: every act implies a set of values, which we are trying to manifest in the world, therefore 'Ethics is the highest form of magic'.
What are the limitations of this book? I think the feature of it that will put more people off than any other is its psychotherapy-influenced language. While I'm not putting down that discipline - like anything else in life, it has excellences and bullshit, and more of the latter - I am reminded of a couple I used to work magic with in my early days. They attempted to centre their magic around deep psychotherapy; it was an extreme example of the 'you must feel your pain before you can be happy' approach. With those two people, I think there was too much focus on feeling the pain, and it put me off that model of magic.
Dr Daniels does admit that, for him, the psychotherapy process is addictive, and he is obviously conscious of the way that influences his writing.
The book is laced with highly technical terms from philosophy and psychotherapy. Did I understand everything that was written? In the main, I think so. But getting to the Appendix, which defines dozens of terms, I realise some of the definitions would require another evening of reading round to get the full sense of the term.
In conclusion, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone engaged in magic or mysticism and who wants to really think about what they are doing.
A final observation: the chapter heading 'All Sex Acts are Sex Magic' put me in mind of a rumour I heard of a certain Tory grandee who, when orgasming during oral sex, yelled 'Death to the miners!'
newage* : noun derived from New Age. Rhymes with sewage.