I've started a new FAQ page at my website on magick, metaphysics, the occult, philosophy, and spirituality.
I plan to keep this page up to date with my current perspective and theories from my research and refer to it when I get questions.
Read it here: https://liminalwarmth.com/esoterica-frequently-asked-questions/
In addition to that page which will always be updated with the latest info, I'll post the Q&A sections into this thread as I write them so you can refer to them here as well.
Section 1. General Questions
I. What do you mean by esoteric knowledge or esoterica?
I'm using the term esoteric here not to refer to any particular movement or philosophy, but rather in the literal dictionary sense of "intended for or likely to be understood by only a small number of people with a specialized knowledge or interest."
My interest in esoterica has a distinctly occult and spiritual flair to it, and my research covers an extremely broad range of topics including general spirituality (most major religions), magick, divination, [...]
[...] parapsychology and psi studies, meditation, supernatural phenomena, trance states, near death experiences, theoretical physics, psychedelic substances, and neurobiology.
II. So... you're studying magick? And a bunch of other fringe stuff?
Kind of. It's all related and it's complicated to explain why and how in a single paragraph or tweet. Saying I'm studying "magick" or "occult topics" is the easiest and fastest shorthand way to give most people a high-level summary of what I'm interested in [...]
[...] but it's also completely wrong because of the popular culture baggage associated with those terms.
Unfortunately, this area of study is brimming with nuance and complexity that isn't covered well by standard formal education, and everyone comes into it with their own unique baggage, beliefs, and misconceptions.
Unless you take the time to really try to grasp what I'm talking about, you're going to misunderstand what I mean. Reading this entire FAQ is a good start.
III. What do you mean you're doing "research"? You don't have a PhD, aren't associated with any institutions, and don't seem to be publishing any formal papers.
I mean precisely that: I'm doing independent research. I'm curious about the nature of reality and interested in understudied and overlooked areas of human experience that appear to offer novel mechanisms for engaging with it.
Because I care most about answering my questions to my own satisfaction and can self-fund this inquiry, I don't see much point in investing time or energy in formal institutions that might introduce unwanted complexity to my investigation.
My process involves identifying key research areas and digging up credible scientific research, theories, and first-hand accounts of people who claim to have experience with them, and then looking for commonalities and constructing theories to explain what might be happening.
In pursuit of this goal, I both do my own primary research via reading and experimentation and also pay an independent team of researchers to annotate historical books of interest to me so that I can quickly survey them for interesting information.
The research team is partially funded by selling the summarized notes of these books under my Alden Marshall brand on http://Amazon.com
. I use a combination of Roam Research and annotated PDFs and eBooks to document my personal notes and theories.
IV. How can you draw any good conclusions when you're not subjecting your theories to rigorous testing via the scientific method in a lab?
I'm not really interested in proving anything except to myself, so I'm content to present theories that seem plausible to me as a result of my research and let others perform more rigorous testing or validate the theories for themselves via their own inquiry.
I do my best to keep an eye on my own biases, to corroborate ideas from multiple sources, and to approach the research first from a lens of rational materialism to keep myself grounded in existing science as much as possible, [...]
but it's challenging to explore this space without going into philosophy, theoretical physics, and metaphysics because we may not have the right tools or methods to make sense of the phenomena with our current unified models of reality.
Some theories suggest that inconsistency, evasiveness, and an inability to use them for practical applications may be an inherent feature of their purpose, which would largely prevent the type of bounded and controlled lab-based research to which we are usually accustomed.
While this possibility is often dismissed immediately by strict materialists, there is no logical requirement for phenomena whose scope, attributes, and purpose we don't yet understand to adhere to a level of consistency or work with methodology we're currently comfortable with.
Elements of these phenomena which appear to defy common sense or violate causality may simply reflect a misunderstanding of what is actually occurring.
V. Why are you wasting your time on this when it's unfalsifiable and obviously fake to almost everyone who's educated or smart?
1. Magick is not obviously fake. This idea is a fallacy unique to certain intellectual circles which are closely tied to academia and materialist/atheist perspectives of the world and which tend to reject most forms of spirituality that don't fit into that worldview.
People who hold and express this belief tend to have not thoroughly examined any amount of evidence and are taking it on faith, having heard it secondhand from someone else or absorbed it from their culture.
This belief completely fails to account for extensive and well-documented reports of phenomena which might be described as "magick", which we can't explain today, and which stubbornly persist in spite of the claim that they're "not real."
Furthermore, if you press people on their actual views and experiences, the vast majority of living people either have beliefs or experiences that don't nicely mesh with an atheist materialist perspective grounded in physics as we understand it.
Because we have no unifying framework to even define what "magick" is supposed to encompass, no two people tend to mean exactly the same thing even when they appear to agree at a surface level that "magick isn't real."
Your own, limited perception of what's meant by "magick" may be getting in the way of your ability to understand the concepts surrounding unusual phenomena, and until you get specific about what you mean and examine the associated evidence, you can't make any claims about it.
2. Magick may be falsifiable. Our understanding of the mechanisms by which magick or other supernatural phenomena may be occurring are incomplete, and thus it is premature to claim that it's non-falsifiable as a class.
As we develop better models of the mechanisms underpinning our reality and become more precise with our specific theories and predictions, we may develop better tools to be able to prove those theories in a manner that would satisfy strict materialists.
3. Our understanding of reality is not static. Our best models to describe how reality works routinely change in the face of new discoveries and evidence. Newtonian mechanics don't consistently work with Quantum mechanics. The Earth is round instead of flat as we once believed.
We no longer attempt to explain the world in terms of classical elements. Concepts we now take as common sense, such as the idea that washing your hands reduces the transmission of disease, were widely ridiculed and discredited when first suggested.
The point is that assuming that something must be untrue because modern science doesn't recognize it in a mainstream way is foolish and hubristic, not to mention that such a perspective directly violates the actual spirit of scientific inquiry.
Poking at phenomena that don't "fit the model" and trying to understand what might be happening there is the essence of science, and that's what I believe I'm doing here.
4. I'm not wasting my time. I enjoy my research and get a lot of personal value out of it in ways I couldn't possibly have anticipated when I began to study these phenomena.
My studies contribute to novel ways of seeing the world, provide additional tools to enhance my psychological well-being, and increase my level of connection with both other people and the world around me.
Even if I come to the end of my life with no unified model of magical theory that produces independently verifiable results, I'll have enriched my own life in the pursuit of it, and I'm already seeing the benefits.
VI. I heard that you're a self-described "desert witch" who lives in a van, you think tarot is real, you believe in cryptozoology, and that you bought a bunch of souls. What the hell? Why should I listen to anything you say?
This is really just a fun exercise in how words shape your perception. That's certainly one way someone could describe me, but it would be both wrong and incomplete.
I prefer the term "sorceress" to "witch," but either way I'm an amateur practitioner at best and much more of an independent researcher. I currently live in a lovely Class A recreational vehicle which I use to travel around the country while I conduct my research.
I have a permanent home base on a 40-acre plot of property in the Arizona desert where I like to hang out in the cooler months when I'm not visiting friends.
My views on cryptozoology and tarot are complicated and better explained further down this FAQ and in my other writing, but I make no definitive claims about either and simply present observations and theories.
You don't have to listen to anything I say and I don't really care whether you do or not.
The soul purchase thing is totally real, though: https://liminalwarmth.com/the-questionable-ethics-of-buying-and-selling-souls/
Section 2. Definitions, Boundaries, and Examples
I. What do you mean when you say "magick"?
This is both a complicated question and the one which I am most frequently asked. As I explained in Section 1, I use "magick" as a concise and convenient descriptor of a fuzzy, loosely linked conceptual space that spans topics from religious ritual to neurobiology.
While some of the topics I draw in are more widely accepted and studied than others, they all appear to have application for explaining two broad categories of experiences that humans have which I would classify as "magick."
Category I (C1): Physical outcomes which violate causality.
The first category include material outcomes which appear to violate causality in physics: sigils are drawn, prayers are prayed, or intentions are stated, and the desired outcome occurs even though there is no apparent link between the activity and the outcome which comes to pass
I also broadly include physical phenomena with no apparent cause in this category (raining frogs, spontaneous combustion, etc).
Category II (C2): Perception of information without an apparent source.
The second category is revelatory or divinatory in nature. An actor, through either intention or accident, appears to know or perceive information with no apparent source or method of attaining that information.
I also broadly include visions, dreams, and hallucinations in this category.
Note that the common element to both categories is the ability to receive information or act on matter in a way that seems to violate our current understanding of physics from a strict materialist lens.
To apply a spiritual lens would be pointless here, as most spiritual belief systems have their own explanations for such phenomena.
Magic(k) is written here with a "k" to differentiate it from stage magic, which does not violate causality, and while I dislike this convention it significantly predates my research and will thus be used in spite of my aesthetic distaste.
This is simply a categorical descriptor of the different classes of phenomena I'm interested in studying, rather than a claim about the validity of any particular expression of either category of magick.
Generally, phenomena that fall into Category II are more widely-accepted by materialists as "real" than Category I phenomena because they are both more frequent and easier to explain via hypotheses that do not violate physics.
II. Can you provide some more specific examples of phenomena that might fall into Category I or Category II of your definition of magick?
I once again want to stress that this is a categorization of areas of study rather than a claim that any of these particular expressions of the category are valid, but I can certainly illustrate some examples of each.
Examples of C1 phenomena:
* Prayer. A devout Christian with a terminally ill relative prays to God that he might heal them, and his relative subsequently experiences a miraculous recovery that doctors are unable to explain.
* Chaos Magick. A practicing chaos magician who is unsuccessful at dating draws a sigil to find a romantic partner and activates it before intentionally forgetting about it. A month later they bump into a wonderful person, fall deeply in love, and get married.
* Placebos. A doctor prescribes a placebo drug to a patient with an illness and instructs the patient to take it daily. Several months later, the illness is cured.
* Manifestation. A man who wants to meet a particular celebrity he admires attempts to manifest the meeting by focusing his conscious attention and intent on that outcome. Through an extremely unlikely set of circumstances, he is soon seated next to the celebrity on a flight.
* Rains of animals. Flightless animals of a single category such as worms, fish, or frogs rain down on a small town from the sky with no apparent source or cause.
* Ritual Magick. A shaman in a small village performs a ritual intending to curse a rival in a nearby town, and the rival shortly thereafter sickens and dies from an unknown illness.
* Levitation. A religious adherent appears to repeatedly levitate several feet in the air simply by allowing themselves to be overcome with an appreciation of the divine.
* Telekinesis. After many hours of focused meditation and concentration, a magickal practitioner causes a flame to bend and weave inside of a glass encasement with no external source of air or pressure.
Examples of C2 phenomena:
* Remote Viewing. An individual reputed to have paranormal psychic abilities is tested in a military laboratory and produces specific and correct information about the location and description of intended targets with 20% accuracy.
* Divination. A small business owner uses tarot cards and receives predictions about their new business venture which later turn out to have been entirely accurate.
* Spontaneous Hallucination. An experienced meditator begins to have spontaneous visual and auditory hallucinations of demonic entities following them and interacting with them which they are unable to voluntarily cease.
* Prophetic Dreams. A lawyer has a dream in which the opposing counsel for an upcoming trial makes unlikely and novel arguments for the case which later match the actual arguments presented by the opposing counsel in court.
* Revelation. An angel appears to a rural woman and tells her the location of valuable relics on her farmland. She investigates and finds historical relics precisely in the unlikely location where she was instructed to look.
* Spirit Communication. Under the influence of a psychedelic drug, a geometric entity provides instructions to the user on how they can improve their psychological well-being, and the user subsequently makes progress on resolving long-standing mental issues.
This is far from an exhaustive list of phenomena which might fall into either category, but hopefully it gives you an idea of the boundaries I'm drawing as I describe my research.
Note that there are also reports of experiential phenomena which don't fit neatly into either C1 or C2 but have elements of both.
Recorded human encounters throughout history with non-human entities (aliens, fae, demons) frequently exhibit a blend of surreal, dreamlike, or prophetic qualities (C2) [...]
[...] while also providing physical evidence of apparent material violations of physics such as gifted objects, unexplainable wounds or illnesses, and physical evidence of their presence at the scene of the alleged encounter (C1).
Note also that there are examples of things that would have seemed inexplicable and been placed in one of these categories prior to our widespread acceptance of the phenomenon, such as Lucid Dreaming.
This is now widely studied and accepted in spite of still not being easily explicable, and I still place it in C2 and consider it relevant to my research.
These categories define the boundaries and provide qualitative descriptions for the types of subjective experiences I want to explore and understand, but are not themselves explanations or hypotheses for what might be happening when someone experiences such an event.
III. Which of these phenomena do you actually think are real?
This is another tricky question to answer, because I honestly don't know. There have been numerous, well-documented cases of both C1 and C2 phenomena throughout all of human history and up to present day.
I have personally experienced examples of several expressions of both C1 and C2 phenomena that I'm at a loss to explain. Some expressions of each category of phenomena are better studied and have more conventional evidence than others.
What many of the expressions of these phenomena have in common is that they are difficult to produce either consistently or on demand, especially in controlled and verifiable settings, and even when a subject of study reports frequent occurrences of a particular phenomenon.
While I don't believe every story I hear, it's abundantly clear that these experiences and phenomena are real for at least some of the people who report encountering or producing them, and some of the reports are very difficult to discredit without some extreme justifications.
Without the security of being able to reproduce results empirically, we're left to draw conclusions from unlikely commonalities between separate accounts and direct experience to form hypotheses about what may be happening.
Because of this, it's impossible for me to definitively claim that any particular expression of C1 or C2 phenomena is "real" in a way that would be satisfying to a materialist skeptic in the absence of such evidence.
All I can offer you is some high-level hypotheses that I find plausible as a result of my experiences and evidence from my ongoing research:
1) Magick is "real." It seems very likely that apparent violations of physics expressed as both C1 and C2 phenomena do sometimes occur, and that these violations of physics can sometimes be produced intentionally by human actors.
There is too much qualitative and historical evidence of such phenomena and too many unexplained reports from credible, living persons who have experienced such phenomena to simply write it off categorically as a hoax or a misperception of reality.
2) Controlled effects are inconsistent. Decades of parapsychology research have attempted to consistently and empirically provide evidence for manifestations of both C1 and C2 phenomena in conventional laboratory settings with appropriate controls.
While their results are sometimes interesting, they are not consistent (and sometimes are inconsistent in bizarre and completely unexpected ways that contradict one another completely from study to study).
Many hypotheses for why this might be have been advanced, which I will go into later, but it's clear that we do not have an appropriate grasp of the mechanics of magickal phenomena to apply conventional methods of study to them at this time and get widely-acceptable results.
3) Belief, emotion, concentration, and attention may play an important role in producing effects. Nearly all schools of magick and spirituality recommend improving concentration when attempting to produce outcomes, and excitatory and inhibitory altered mental states are common.
Tools and props are often used to heighten the emotions or belief of practitioners via association of the physical item with the intended vehicle producing the outcome (as with correspondences in sympathetic magic).
Note also that there is evidence suggesting that not only the belief of the practitioner matters, but possibly also the belief of all witnesses, participants, or observers of either the magickal action or the intended outcome.
4) Nonhuman entities which interact with humans are "real." Regardless of your explanation for the phenomena, it is clear that humans have credibly reported encounters with nonhuman beings which showcase apparently supernatural abilities.
These reports occur throughout recorded history and into modern times, often accompanied by persuasive and inexplicable evidence, and such encounters exhibit elements of both C1 and C2 phenomena in ways that suggest they may be linked.
IV. Why are you bringing nonhuman entities into this discussion? Doesn't branching into UFOs, aliens, demons, and fae seem kind of ridiculous and distracting from your core research?
Yes and no. Up until recently I was reasonably confident that magick as a phenomenon was real (though inconsistent and unexplained) and that non-corporeal entities such as spirits or demons were implausible but explainable as subjective expressions of human psychology.
I was extremely dismissive of accounts of UFOs, aliens, and fae. It seemed like a grab bag of fringe concepts to me to entertain the whole of nonhumans as a body and somehow relate it back to magick.
However, I have been persuaded by the work of Jacques Vallée and others who have studied historical accounts of nonhuman entities that there is not only a significant body of evidence for contact with mysterious and evasive nonhuman entities, [...]
[...] but that such accounts have startling and consistent similarities between them throughout history and across cultures which lend additional credibility to otherwise isolated and bizarre reports which we might otherwise attribute to fiction or insanity.
Vallée proposes a theory that all such accounts of nonhuman beings are expressions of a singular core phenomenon which expresses itself in different presentations that vary with the observer's time period, location, culture, and expectations.
He goes on to build a case that the purpose of this phenomenon may be the breaking down of old belief systems and the implementation of new ones in humans.
This is notable and relevant due to the historical association of both C1 and C2 magick with nonhuman entities such as spirits, gods, and demons, whose appearance and behavior can be linked to the nonhuman manifestations catalogued by Vallée and others.
If Vallée's hypothesis is correct, and the purpose of such encounters is shaping human spiritual beliefs for some unknown purpose, [...]
[...] this would explain why the apparent outcome and hypothetical function of engagement with C1 and C2 phenomena appears to also be spiritual development in humans, as has been suggested by the work of parapsychologist J.E. Kennedy.
While these theories are necessarily highly speculative, the associations themselves in the reports are readily apparent and merit further research.
For my purposes, at this time I'm accepting the hypothesis advanced by Vallée as tentatively correct and assuming that reports of UFOs, aliens, fae, spirits, angels, and demons are all expressions of the same phenomenon, and I investigate their link to magick through this lens.
V. What's next? Why not vampires, ghosts, zombies, bigfoot, and the Loch Ness monster? Are they all related to magick too?
I have not seen any persuasive evidence, even theoretical, of the existence of corporeal undead or cryptids. I have not deeply studied cryptozoology, and I don't consider it relevant to my research on magick at this time.
While this may seem like an arbitrary distinction, accounts of cryptids and corporeal undead differ significantly in their presentation, reported attributes, cultural impact, and methods of engagement when compared to the nonhuman entities discussed in the previous section.
While some of these cryptids and corporeal undead are purported to exhibit characteristics that would map to C1 and C2 magickal phenomena, they do not appear to be related to the understanding or human expression of magickal phenomena, and are thus less interesting to me.
I also find it difficult to accept that persistent, corporeal beings which interact with humans, however elusive, would remain undocumented in the face of modern technology.
The difference from the prior entities is that those entities are frequently reported to appear and disappear at will and to control the mechanisms of their manifestation to humans, which makes our inability to collect conclusive evidence on them more persuasive to me.
Ghosts (or the non-corporeal manifestation of dead humans) are in a category of their own here, and I don't have a lot to say about them right now.
They're mildly interesting to me as a frequent subject of divination and mediumship practices (both C2), but I haven't read any compelling theories which would cause me to think they'd exist outside of the boundaries of C2 phenomena as independent and autonomous entities.
I may update my opinion on their existence as my research progresses, but at this time I am mildly skeptical that they exist in anything like the form frequently presented by popular culture.
Added a new question to Section 1. General Questions:
"What are your goals when you present or discuss the results of this research?"
By forcing myself to clearly state my ideas for a public audience, I'm both ensuring that there's a publicly-critiqued level of consistency and logic to what I'm saying and also deepening my own understanding of the material through a secondary, written synthesis of the concepts.
In addition to this, there are three major issues I see with the most common methods of studying magickal theory that I am attempting to correct via the presentation of my work:
1. Without appropriate context in the domain, it is very difficult to know which books, sources, or teachers are a worthwhile investment of one's time and which sources present false or misleading information.
A glut of misinformation has been created by the marketability of magick as a popular concept and the status which can be derived from a person successfully masquerading as an expert with mysterious, hidden powers.
To a person who suspects it's all nonsense but wants to learn more about it anyway, the works of charlatans can look just like works that actually contain useful truths, and there's no good way to differentiate the two classes of information upon initial contact with the topic.
2. Many of the "classic" texts of magick that are claimed to contain useful truths by credible sources, even if you find your way to them, are very unapproachable for people without a lot of domain-specific conceptual scaffolding in place.
They tend to be written with extensive use of jargon, symbols, and metaphors and do not adequately explain what is metaphor and what is meant to be taken literally.
This approach to conveying information is often (apparently) intended as an exercise to train the reader in working with logical contradiction and expanded modes of thinking about reality, which it may do, but it also tends to confuse people genuinely seeking basic knowledge.
A new reader will frequently bounce off of the material, concluding that it's all nonsense, because they don't have the appropriate context to appreciate what's being said (which is entirely the fault, or intent, of the author).
3. Many practitioners of magick are bad teachers even if they possess the actual necessary experience to teach and have good intentions.
This is because most _people_ simply aren't naturally skilled teachers who take the time to communicate clearly in ways that will resonate with their student.
This is made worse by the tendency of some practitioners to intentionally provide misleading, confusing, or self-contradictory answers to sincere questions, either to serve their own purposes or conceal their inexperience.
Because of these problems, questions are rarely answered clearly, accurately, and directly in this domain in a way that allows new entrants to build good mental models for operating in the conceptual space.
These three issues contribute to a large inferential distance between a person who has never seriously considered magick as "real" before and an entry point for serious consideration of magickal theory.
Many magicians also make the claim that this barrier to entry is intentional and desirable, but the reasons given for this are often highly questionable.
They appear to be more about keeping the discipline shrouded in mystery and intrigue (providing status to current practitioners) than to actually being the most effective way to initiate people into a safe and effective exploration of magickal theory and experimentation.
I personally value epistemic clarity and enjoy sharing information, and I feel strongly that serious inquiry in this field is held back by the three factors outlined above.
I also believe that there is value in clearly outlining both the risks and the benefits of magickal study and practice in common, easy-to-understand language, so that people can make well-informed decisions about whether it's something that they want to spend time pursuing.
One of the key goals for my research and writing is uncovering practical and applicable information behind all of these layers of obfuscation and then building clear, methodical, and universal tools to bridge the inferential distance required to understand this space.
My hope is that by providing a thorough and well-reasoned framework with clear language and definitions, I can accelerate the process of internalizing the conceptual scaffolding necessary to allow a wider audience to seriously examine magick through direct personal experience.
(The FAQ has now been updated with a version number, 0.2 as of this tweet, and a full list of the questions that I plan to have answered when I reach version 1.0 of the FAQ)
New questions and answers added to the end of Section 1. General Questions:
IX. What evidence is there for the non-materialist worldview that seems to be required to entertain many of the ideas in this FAQ?
I don't think a non-materialist worldview is required to consider the ideas present in this FAQ because I've constructed it in such a way that I don't make any concrete claims without evidence tied back to a materialist understanding of the world.
Where I'm working with speculation, theory, or subjective experiences, I say so. Where I don't have any idea how a thing works, I say so.
My chain of logic is rooted in inconsistencies I noticed in the mechanics of how I was taught that the world works, and then I try to unpack what might be happening using while looking for as much evidence as possible to either validate or invalidate my models.
If there is an overarching system governing the phenomena discussed here, and the phenomena do occur, it shouldn't actually be a violation of the laws of nature. It simply means we don't yet have the tools to describe what's happening well at this time.
All that's required to engage with the concepts in this FAQ is to be able to consider novel ideas from a rational perspective, grounded in your own experience, as an invitation for further exploration on this topic.
X. Given that you're both a fiction writer and financially profiting as a result of this research, why should I believe that anything you're saying is true, rather than an attempt to make money or build a platform for status or attention?
You shouldn't believe that anything I'm saying is necessarily true. I'd prefer you engage with the ideas and evidence on their own merits, with an open mind and your faculty for reasoning, and come to your own conclusions (whether or not they match mine).
As for whether I'm simply making up lies for money or attention, all I can say is that I'm not, and offer you these points as evidence:
1) I don't make enough money off of this to have a financial motivation for it, and I already have a sufficient level of income from my consulting and my business to live comfortably and spend as much time as I want doing things like studying magic because I'm curious about it.
2) There are easier ways to make extra money if that were a primary goal for me, and if I wanted to sell pop culture magic theory I'd be making much stronger claims about how experienced I was and what magic could do to improve people's material wealth than you'll find here.
3) If I wanted to write fiction I'd just write fiction instead of lengthy, carefully-worded statements describing the current state of my research.
4) I have plenty of ways to get attention and build a platform that aren't shilling magic. I'm genuinely interested in this topic and trying to be as clear, rational, and cautious as I can with it.
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.