The following text has been automatically reproduced by an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) algorithm. It may not have been checked over by human eyes. For matters of precision please consult the original pdf.

Understanding the occult

them, but they are arhitrary in the sense that
there is no rationale behind them.

[Radical Philosophy 5, p34J

Klein, I think, must berated among the most
perceptively biting of these cynics, these nasty
people who try their damnedest to upset the
cultural applecart.

The Neo-Dadaists set out to shock the ‘cultured
classes from their complacency.

Perhaps they
ought to have borne in mind what eventually became
of Duchamp, Picabia and Dali once the spectators
had recovered from the initial surprise. The
quickest way of dealing with the artistic outlaw
is to extend the limits of legality so he is no
longer outlaw, but an integrated – hence ‘respectable’ – participant in civilization. This is what
happened in the case of the above artists. Thus
the Neo-Dadaists found it harder than ever to provoke serious thought rather than to allow the
spectator the reassurance of complacent admiration.

Jean Tingueley resorted to auto-destructives, constructions set to blow themselves up.

(‘Art disturbs; science reassures’. – Georges Braque).

Certainly shows a flair for the theatrical, but
then, so does blowing up a factory chimney.

dammit all – is it art? our Victorian counterparts would have asked.)
The train of thought
which underlines Yves Klein’s ‘Ritual’ betrays a
more profound criticism.

But Klein’s work is far
from being free from that rhetoric so characteristic of Neo-Dadaism; but with Klein – in the
‘Ritual’ above all – the rhetoric is never gratuitous.


Alfred Cell
, … it takes reality to reveal transcendence’.

, The world and transcendence are one without
being identical’.

Karl Jaspers, Philosophy Vol.III

My objective in this paper is to sketch in the
general form of the Occult.l The Occult order, as
I understand it, is the object of those techniques
and doctrines, interpretative schemes and ritual
procedures, which we commonly group together under
the rubric of Magico-Religious behaviour.

I wish
to understand how it is that the Occult comes into
being as an integral element in human affairs, and
how ritual action, by grasping the Occult can
claim, for its adherents, a measure of control
over the contingencies which surround men in the
course of their daily lives.

It is assumed here
that Magico-Religious behaviour is devoid of
material efficacy, at least of the kind ascribed
to it by its practitioners. Though I would not
dispute the proposition that ritual can have
beneficial consequences, psychologically, therapeutically, or socially, this does not seem to me
to alter the basic fact that r~tual cannot be,
interpreted in terms of a rational means/ends

1 Magic, science and arl
It hardly needs saying ·that the question of devising a satisfactory theoretical perspective for

viewing ~1agico-Religious behaviour has been a
perennial subject of dispute, not only among
Anthropologists. For an outside observer, particularly for a participant in the secular, disenchanted, rationalistic ethos most characteristic
of the Ivest, there has always been something
positively scandalous about magic, fascinating
and repellent at the same time.

Hence the widespread interest in the subject. For the Anthropologist, the problem has an added dimension of
complexity, due to the ambiguous position he has
to adopt between his own culture, which provides
the background against which his account must he
intelliqible, and the exotic culture which it is
his task to describe faithfully.

He cannot adopt the position of the theoloqian,
who is committed to the doctrines that he makes
it his business to expound: but at the same time
he is loath to deny or minimise the intrinsic
vigour and force of the exotic ideas which he has
been at such pains to record, especially when
seen in the light of their original social context.

Hence the attractions of the theories of
reliqion such as those propounded by Ilorton and
Beattie, both of whom, in different ways, offer
apologies f~r the occult, bv purp~rtinq to see
analogies between the styles of thought which
make recourse to notions of the occult, and more
respectable intellectual activities, already
familiar to us in a Western context. 2
Horton, as is well known, favours an analogy
between Religion, or Magico-Religious behaviour,
and Science. His apology for the Occult is,
essentially, that, like science, it offers an
explanatory scheme for the interpretation of

His apology stops short, and turns
instead into an in~ictment, ~~ly because the
primitive thought-systems he is considering fall
short, in certain crucial respects, of the
standard set by developed western scientific

He locates the fallaciousness of
primitive thought-systems in their inaccessbility
to correction by new experience.

apology is different, and also his identification
of the basic fallacy,
l~ sees Maqico-Religious
behaviour as expressive, and hence as akin not to
science, but to art, and no less res’pectable for
that. And for him the fallacy is the fallacy of
the artist seduced by the vehemence of his own
creative outpouring into believing that the objects of his efforts can borrow their reality
from him.

In the first part of this paper, I propose to
criticise both of these views in certain respects.

I hasten to add that in neither case would I wish
to controvert the substantive analytical contribution of these authors.

I merely wish to suggest
that it is possible to go further than either in
developing theoretical ideas which will allow us
to understand magic and religion. One such idea
is that of the occult itself, which I will discuss in detail later.

But as a general point I
would argue that analogies, however persuasive,
cannot mask an irreducible quality which attaches
to magico-religious behaviour per se, {which I
would identify as its preoccupation with the
occult}, and that comparisons with other forms of
thought or behaviour, be they science or art or
any other, cannot tell ~s what this specific,
irreducible quality is.


Magic as science
Let me commence by discussing Horton’s impressive
attempt to de-mystify the occult aspects of
primitive world view by drawing an extended analogy between what appear to be mystical ideas (the
gods, heroes and water-spirits of Kalabari cosmology), and the abstract explanatory concepts
employed by western science.

Horton thinks that
religion and magic are interpretative theories about
the order of Nature. He calls them ‘proto-science’

The following quotation summarises his views:


The really siqnjficant aspiration behind a
CTrcat neal of llfrican religious thought is
the most olJv.ious one, i.e. the attempt to
explain and influence the workinqs of one’s
ever1jday world hll discovering constant
principles which unnerly the chan.r, and flux
of evertlday experience.

[Porton, 19C4)
These ‘constant principles’ Clre nothincr other
than the Gmls, heroes, an(l C:pirits, whose pronerties, oneratinq now in con4unctinn, nnw in oonositinn, shape the onqninq pattern of existence.

Tn 4ust th~ same way, it is Clrcrueri, exnlanatorv
notions like qravitation, velocity, inertiCl, anri
the rest, make nossi]’le a causal internretCltinn
of nature, of the kind Clclopteri hy physics and the
other sciences.

Onp CCln only stand llack Cln(l admire the cogency and simnlicitv of this scheP1e,
whicll, to he sure, must contClin an element of
truth . .t the S:lme tine, lleClttie certainly seems
to have put his finqer on a qrave defect in it
wllPn he remClrks that it is one thinq to predict
and control NClture (on the natura naturam vincjt
nrincinle) by aliqnina human action to nClturCll
law, while it is cm i te another to seek to influence it hy treCltinq it ClS an extension nf the
humCln order.

clccorclinq to HeClttie, only science
(i.e. western sciencf~) cloes the former, while the
magician only pretends to ~o the lCltter.

[Heattie, 1<)(',(,: CS)
This ohjection, ClPl',lrentlv so qrClve in its
conseauences for llorton' s theory, can he m"de tn
lose some of its force if, ClS T shall atteP1nt to
sholoJ, IVhat counts as 'nClture' for the kind of
"AY i co-Pel i q i ous exnlClnCltorv theorv cons i.clered
by Ilorton is not the saP1e as the ";ature' '",hich is
the object of western science.

Tn fact, llorton’s
theory can nnl” be 411′,tifie(l if one flaKes this
particular reservation, namelv, that Itorton’s
proto-science, Clnri clevelorer1 ‘:!estern science,
thouyh scwlel’hat (lnClloCjous as to their intern<,l
structure, c10 not have an object in ~ornmon.

1t seems to r1e that Ilorton is in danqer of
positing a too rigiri senClration between ‘Nature’

(that which hCls to be explained) and ‘internretative ideas’ (bv means of “hi ch the internretat ion is achieved).

Horton sees nature as a
fullv constituted object, indel’enrient of the ideas
which are brought to beClr on it.

But is this the
case? ~ly own view is that anybody’s idea on
‘nClture’ is likelv to he heavily theorv-impreqnated.

T Ivould rienv thClt nature is constitute(1
ClS an object of whClt ‘de would consider scientific
explanations, except hv science itself.

Ilorton’s <'lPl'roach implies, T think, that
'nature' can be considered Cl neutrCll hackground
upon which primitive and scientific internretative
theories may be projected in(li fferentlv.

Tf the
results are different, as he Cldmits they are, then
this is a consequence of the different ideCl-systems
beinq emploved in either case.

‘ly own view, on
the other hand, (loes not involve the ideCl of
nClture as an lrieil.l, to which competing theories
mav or may not approxinate.

Nature, here, is onlv
:lnother word for ‘reCllity’ and <le have come to
realise that the rercertion of 'reality' involves
a nrocess of definition, rather than simple recognition.

Realitv is socially defined in terms
of what is ‘relevant’ in the socially-conditioned
experience of an ego.

If occult forces, magic,
or witchcraft are relevant as part of a given
actor’s experience, then they are real for him.

Rut this entails the recognition· on our rart,
that no such definition of reality (or ‘nature’)
is,inde-pendent of the interrretative ideCls that
are ~rought to bear on it.

Within the plenum of
potentially cognisable phenomena, culturally
determined structures of relevance 3 determine what
is, and what is not, taken as ‘reality’ or ‘nature’

for ego.

Relative to any particular set of interpretative ideas, the structures of relevance
within the plenum of cognisable phenomena undergo


profound shifts.

No lonaer a neutral object,
nature is constrained hy the kind of nuestions a
given set of interrretCltive ideas asks, and can

Consenuentlv, the kind of religious or
metaphysical thinking consi (lered hy 1I0rton, “h ich
he calls proto-science, P1ay indeed l~ that, hut
we should not think that its object, thClt I,’hich
it seeks to exnlain and understand, is the SClme as
for western science. For in rosing certain kinds
of problems for solution, it prejudges the nature
of the reality with which it has to deal.

And if
Thomas Kuhn is to be believed, this is no less
true of l’1estern Science.

lIence my Clssertion thClt
science and religion have no object in cOr1l11on.

Let me illustrate this with a brief reference
to my own fieldwork material gathered in Ur1eda, a
‘fillage in the West District of New Guinea

The instance I have in mind is Umeda
ideas about the weather, in particular what causes
the hrief but violent tronical storms which hlow
un in certain seasons of the year, hringing all
activities to an Clhrunt h<llt, and sometimes causinq serious damage to the villagers' rather flimsily-constructed houses.

Such rain-squalls are
helieved to be brought about by the aqqressive
feelings (V<111S) of older men, either as the result of sexual frustration, lack of hunting
success, or occClsionally the death or illness of
a kinsman.

I think this can stanr1 as a fair exaP1nle of
what lIorton r1iqf1t r1e,’n by a nroto-scientific
theory, which attrihutes an underlvinG social
causation to a nCltural phenomenon: TYleteoroloqical
in this case.

“n the bClS is of Eorton’ s theorv,
one might sumTYlarise the situation thus, in
Guestion-anri-answer form:



vhat causes rCli n ann snualls’;
The rain maqic of frustrated men.

But thouqh this might seem Cl naturCll enough
IVav of nuttinq things, nermittinq the qeneralisation tlF,t ‘UT’l.e,las helieve that rain sGualls are
caused by the magic of frustrated men’ … this
is not the way in which the problem presents itself to the limeda mind.

It is, rather, in the
followirv:j form:



‘1hose magic caused 4 the rain to fall?

Old so-and-so’s.

That is, what is ‘internreted’ by the theory
is not so r~uch the physical fact of the squall
(loJhich is siP1plv an index of somethinG else) …

as the morCll condition of certain memhers of the
society. The theory, such as it is, does not
decide between the competing hypothesis (a) that
the squall is the outcome of natural forces
versus (b) that it is the outcome of assumed maq-ical acts.

The truth of (b) is definitional, for
the Umedas a storm is a moral fact loJith a phvsical
aspect, not a natural phenomenon at all.

It can
be pictured as a kind of dial, or nointer, whose
deviation allo<ls the Umedas to read off the prevailinq coefficient of frustration.

This brinqs
into play a completely different set of relevances than those appropriate to scientific
meteo,rology. For Umedas, the weather is not
simply an external fact, an intransigent rhenomenon to be exnlClined.

Tt is, rather, an external
fact whose accessibility allo<ls it to be used as
an index of somethinq else, less tanqible or
oatent, i.e. the moral condition of the societv,
(or the coefficient of frustration).

0n such lines as these, T would argue that
primitive theory buildinq and western science
relate to different conceptual universes: the
criteria of ‘relevance’ beinq quite different in
either case.

The UP1eda theory does not comnete
with an alternative theory of nhysical causation
(a) because for the Umedas, the weather is relevant primarily as an index of intanqible social
facts, whereas for meteo~ology the weather is an
external reality sui generis, and (b) because,

despite the use of ‘abstract’ theoretical concepts such as ‘convection’ etc and mathematical
symbolism, metecrology ultimately rests on the
notion of physical causation in a world of
material bodies, while the corresponding Umeda
theory says nothing at all about physical mechanisms of causation.

Later in this paper, I shall argue that
theories such as the Umeda theory of the weather
are based, not on causal relations at all, but
on acausal synchronicity-relations. This modification of the theory allows one to continue to
see primitive cosmological systems, as Horton
does, as positing ‘constant principles [underlying] the flux of everyday experience’ – without
obscuring what 1 take to be the essentially
occult nature of the constructs emnloyed.

Magic as art
In expressing only qualified approval of Horton’s
views, I have in certain respects only echoed
critical points’ made earlier by Beattie in the
course of his controversy with this writer.

Beat~ie, I am inclined to think that Horton rather
overdoes the similarities between primitive thought
systems and modern science, incurring the danger
of traducing the for~er, and of depriving the
latter of all distinctive meaning. At the same
time, the grounds of my criticism are slightly
different, and I would criticise Beattie himself
for almost the same reasons, namely, that he, too,
avoids the crucial question of the nature of the
occult realities. with which primitive thought
systems purport to deal.

It seems to me that Beattie’s account breaks
Qff just as this point is reached. Like Beattie,
rI;·~am inclined to think that ritual action is
symbolic action, and 1 wholeheartedly concur
with his sturdy defence of the Anthropologist’s
right (not to say obligation) to assay an interpretation of sequences of ritual behaviour, even
when this means reconstructing symbolic contents
of behaviour which may be unconscious, or never
verbalised, as far as the actors themselves are
concerned. Where my difficulties begin are with
Beattie’s contention that ‘expressiveness’

(whatever that may be) is the source of the
imputed instrumental efficacy of ritual action.

[Beattie, 1966:65-9]
Here Beattie follows Malinowsky closely, whom
he quotes as saying:

words are not only means of expression but
efficient modes of action: [they] mean so far
as they act, and have a power of their own.

[Beattie, 1966:69]

Admittedly, Malinowsky is here speaking only of
the child’s use of language, but Beattie thinks he
would have the Master’s concurrence in generalising the idea to cover all acts of magical expression.

(In this, I am sure he is correct:

Malinowski’s famous Appendix to Ogden and Richards’

‘The Meaning of Meaning’ and the book itself,
point strongly in this direction.)
Beattie summarises his eventual position as follows:

What I am asserting, then, is that fundamentally ritual’s efficacy is thought to lie
in its very expressiveness .. [Ibid]

1 suspect, somehow, from the tone of this
pronouncement, that Beattie himself is conscious
that this is, in a sense, a somewhat’paradoxical
conclusion to have reached. What is puzzling is
the precise force of the term ‘expression’ and
its relation to the notion of instrumentality,
or physical efficacy. Beattie’s starting point,
in his discussion of ritual, is the normal usage
which opposes ‘instrumental’ (physicallyefficacious) behaviour to ‘expressive’ (symbolic or
communicative) behaviour. Ritual is. placed
firmly in the class of expressive (hence, noninstrumental) behaviour. This behaviour, or this

aspect of behaviour is A and not -B. But, at the
same time, we are invited to think of ritual
behaviour as instrumental (B) by virtue of being
expressive (A), so, A and B. Here there is a
contradiction in logic, but it would clearly be
unfair to say that this contradiction has its
origin in Beattie’s own thought; rather, it is
one he attributes to the practitioners of ritual,
a pathetic fallacy, if you like, “”hich makes the
ritual attitude possible.

Having commenced, as
I said earlier, by offering an apology for ritualism, magic, etc, which stresses the symbolic,
dramatic, and aesthetic aspects of such behaviour,
Beattie is at length forced to rest his case on
a conception of ritual efficacy couched in terms
of the discharge of surplus emotive energy in
surrogate action, and even on what he calls ‘the
consolations of make-believe’.

such consolation
may be, indeed, all that the ritual magician ever
attains to, but it is surely less than he seeks.

However much one Pln.y agree with Beattie thn.t

ritual sets about its task with expressive. means,
the ends that it seeks cannot be considered merely
expressive. The defect of Beattie’s scheme lies
precisely, I think, in the disparitl/ of r.itllaJ
ends and means that the concept of ritual as pure
expression entails. The source oi this dispn.rity
is the rigid separation, adhered to by Beattie n.nd
Horton, between instrumental/causally-efficacious/
rational/technological action on the one hand and
expressive/symbolic communicative behaviour on the

Beattie, I think, sees the necessity of
transcending this particular dichotomy, but, In.cking any means of doing so, is left in the uncomfortable position of positing a type of action
(namely ritual) which is ‘instrumental’ by virtue
(as he says) of being ‘expressive’. This seems
unsatisfactory. While Horton, faced with the same
choice, takes the option of regarding ritual as
a species of technology, implicitly causal in
design. But bearing in mind Beattie’s entirely
convincing demonstration that ritual is symbolic
in its mode of operation, ritual means seem illchosen to serve the ends postulated by Ilorton.

The escape from this dilemma, if it is such,
can only be found in postulating a different
system of relevances, or what I would call a
world-construct, in terms of which ritual would
cease to be either causal or simply expressive
in design.

We must.recognise that the instrumental/expressive dichotomy is descriptively inadequate when confronted with social facts
originating in the context of societies whose
thinking is pervaded by notions of the occult.

Rather than seek to categorise ritual behaviour
in terms of categories which may well be effective when applied to our own patterns of behaviour,
but whose u~iversal applicability is more dubious,
it would be better to concentrate attention more
narrowly. onto what, specifically, makes ritual
what it is. And to my mind, this specific feature, which distinguishes ritual behaviour from


all other-forms of behaviour, i~ its orientation
towards the occult. If we do this ritual becomes, in a sense, both more rational and more
technical in relation to the particular worldconstruction that it adopts, but is, simultaneously, less likely to be seen, misleadingly, as
a fuzzy analogue to the rational/technical manipUlations which take place within the worldconstruction of western science-based rationality,
which is dominated by causal modes of thinking.

2 The occult construction
of the world
The remainder of this paper is devoted to sketching the world-construction, which, in my view,
corresponds to primitive cosmological and magical

The idea of Ihe occull
But first it is necessary to say somethi-ng about
the concept of the occult, which has not ~et been
given a precise sense. The importance _~ this
concept was brought home to me by a paper contributed by Professor Fortes to th~ Royal Society
Symposium of Ritualisation in animals and man. 5
Fortes’ paper is called ‘Religious Premises and
Logical Technique in Divinatory R~~ual’. Because
this paper is probably less well known than many
more meritricious writings on the subject of
ritual, it may -be as well to outline what I take
to be Fortes’ main theoretica~ point.

Fortes’ paper opens with some critical remarks
aimed at Leach’s blanket definition of ritual as
the ‘communicative aspect of behaviour’. Fortes
proposes to restrict ‘ritual’ to situations in
whi~ sequences of ~ehaviour are directed towards
what he calls the ‘occult’ realm, as opposed to
the realm of the ‘patent’:

The occU1C can only be known about by its
efrects, by its apparently arbitrary interventions in routine existence, whereas things
patent can be known in the last resort by
sensory experience. What is more, things
patent fall into place, or are believed to
do so, in conformity with the regularities
of material, causal, relations, as understood
by a particular cultural community, •.. They
are susceptible to management by technical
means. The occult powe~s, forces, relations,
agencies and so forth a~e not believed to
behave in conformity witih material, causal
relations, or to be predictable or amenable
to teChnical operations. They respond only
to ritual action. {Fortes, 1966:411]
Occult forces, we are given to understand, are
manifested in what non-primitive societies class~
ify as luck, chance, or coincidence, including
such grave, but chance-dominated occurrences as
Birth, Health, Sickness, and so forth. Fortes
argues ~ rieual is a technique for, as he puts
it, ‘prehending the occult’:

We see that
exposing it
it into the

ritual prehends the occult not by
(as science does with the laws of
but by disguising it and bringing
realm of the patent. [Ibid.]

This statement has a splendidly lapidary quality about it, and much of what I wish to say is
contained in it. Nonetheless, it is necessary to
enter some comments on Fortes’ notion of the
occult. What is ‘prehending the occult’? What
is this hidden order of reality to which ritual
thought seeks access? And how it is that through
having access to this hidden order of reality the
instrumental ends of the actors are served?

First of all, it is essential to note that the
occult realm is not simply synonymous with the
‘supernatural beings’ of the Tylorian minimum
definition of religion.


Fortes argues that the distinction between the
‘supernatural’ and ‘natural’ sphere i& an artificial one in the context of primitive cultures.

The occult, in Fortes’ scheme, is simply those
aspects of a homogeneous reality which seem to
bespeak a hidden articulating power, inaccessible
in itself, but manifest in its effects. I would
be prepared to go further than this, however, in
arguing that the cultural symbols of occult power,
be they ‘personalised’ as Gods and Spirits, or
taking the form of disembodied magical influences
such as mana, cannot be considered the occult
order per se, but are only images of it. Being
products of the human mind, they are knowable
absolutely while it is of the essence of the
occult that it is not known, that it cannot be
grasped in itself.

It might seem odd to assert that the spirit
worl?, the world of mystical powers, was one
knowable absolutely. Is it not frequently the
case that these same spirit powers are said to be
unpredictable and capricious in their relations
with men? However, one need not be misled into
thinking that because the contingencies over which
the spirits are believed to preside are indeterminate, the spirits themselves lack consistent
properties. They cannot but reflect faithfully
the conditions found in the phenomenal world from
which they spring, and if contingency reigns here
there, their caprice only mimics that fundamental
fact. In positing any array of spirits, powers,
and mystical forces, men create an imaginative
world to which they, as its originators, have
privileged access. A spirit is not, and cannot
be, an unknown quantity because, as a spirit, it
is a figment df human thought-processes, it exists
only inasmuch as it is known. But here is the
paradox, for, according to Fortes’ negative defini~
tion of the occult, the occult is something hidden,
something not kn~wn. Hence the spirit, it is
necessary to say, is the knowable image or representation of something that is in its essence

I may instance here the class of spirits known
in Umeda as subudagwa, who are believed to control
the growth processes of plants and garden crops,
and also to be the agencies responsible for certain
illnesses. The subudagwa, who are believed to live
beneath the roots of forest trees, particularly
sago and limbum palms, were described as dwarf,
polychrome men, carrying miniature bows and arrows.

These arrows were believed to be lodged in the
flesh of the humanvictims of the subudagwa
spirits, and curing rituals were undertaken with
the view of invoking the spirits to remove their
arrows. The Umedas had, in effect, a highly concrete picture of the subudagwa spirits, their
habitat, appearance, etc as well as clear ideas as
to how they manifested themselves (in dreams and
illness) and as to how they might be communicated
with, by invocations addressed to the stumps of
trees. As cultural artefacts, then, the subudagwa
were ehtirely internal to the Umeda construction
of their bio-social universe; bu~ they were~ at the
same time, the point of contact between that
particular universe and something external to it,
something that I would define as a kind of incohate external contingency. The subudagwa
spirits, as images of an encompassing but ungraspable contingency, represented the specific
form that that external contingency took in relation to Umeda consciousness. I think of such
imaginative efforts to conceptualise the ultimate
grounds of contingence as a kind of exo-skeleton,
or mould of the outer form of the Umeda construction of the world. Everything that lies beyond
them transcends that world, and is radically inaccessible to those who inhabit it, who remain
within its limiting conditions. Together with the
subudagwa (images of the occult contingency of
growth-proc~sses and illness) we may put ideas
about the founding ancestors, the pantheon of
spirits of the air, of streams, of trees and stones;

likewise the occult sources of good and bad
fortune in love, hunting and warfare, and the
images of death, the sorcerer, the cannibal monster and despairing lover. These, to use the
very apposite language of Jaspers’ Philosophy,
are ‘ciphers of the transcendent’, 6 representations, which always remain internal to the culture,
and to the worlq-construct which it posits, but
which seem to point beyond it, revealing and concealing at the same time the sources of contingency, like the dark bl~e of the night sky, which
seems to open up the heavens for our in~pection,
but in which the totality of the universe is
forever’ lost.

The idea I am trying to express is a difficult
one, and I shall elucidate it further in due course
Let me retrace my steps for the present to the
Fortesian conception of the occult. Fortes seems
at first sight to wish to confine the occult, or
rather, the’ manifestations thereof, to specifically
odd, fortuitous, apparently capricious occurrences,
as opposed to regular, normal, phenomena. It is
the apparently fortuitous which invites explanation
in terms of the occult, while the normal round of
events requires no such explanation. I think this
impression would be misleading, since Fortes himself shows that events which are seen as the product
of occult interventions are by no means abnormal or
unlikely in a statistical sense (i.e. in the sense
that tossing a coin and having it come up heads
ten times in a row is an unlikely event). Death,
he says, is a normal occurrence, but because it is
catastrophic for the individuals directly concerned, it is a matter for explanation in terms
of the occult. [Fortes, 1966:413-4141] It is clear
that no significant event in ‘human life and activity .. is without its occult aspects. Fortes menti~~birth, death, sickness, social conflict all entirely normal events in the experience of
the community, if not in the experience of the
individual. I would add to the list such things
as success or otherwise in productive activities,
hunting or gardening, in love affairs and in
negotiations over marriage, in political life,
warfare, and so on. similarly with natural phenomena such as the seasonal cycle, the migrations
of birds and other animals – all perfectly normal
phenomena in themselves (in fact, extraordinarily
regular) – but not the less occult for that. To
encounter the occult one need not seek egregiously
odd or unnatural circumstances, strange coincidences, or the like. It lies all about it. But
what is it, really?

Evidently, it is not what happens, but how,
when, where, and to whom it happens which will
motivate a diagnosis in terms of the occult. The
Occult manifests itself in the relation between
the acting and suffering individual and the totality of objectively normal natural events and
social processes wherein he is enmeshed. But
these events and processes are not ‘occult’ in
themselves, for the Occult (as we said) is that
which by its nature is not to be known or experienced, whereas the events, in their coming to
pass, are directly experienced. One has then to
say that the Occult is the modality of events
which Transcends, or lies beyond, the horizon of
possible awareness. The Occult order, one could
say, is where events are when they are not happening. But this order is nowhere and nothing;
nothing in the world corresponds to it – it has
no determinate factual form in the sense that the
world given in here-and-now perception has determinate factual form. At the same time, it is
clear that human ‘being in the world’ consists
precisely in ~he carrying-over of elements of a
factual world continually receding into the
neutrality of pastness into a yet-to-be-realised,
not yet factual world towards which every project
of action is oriented. We may by no means main~
tain an agnostic attitude towards this open and
still uninscribed futurity; for the necessary
truth is that in some guise, however indeterminate

at present, the future will be actualised, will
become the stage upon which our projects and those
of others unknown to us will be played out – which
lends it a kind of virtual substantiality or honorary presentness. Perceived social reality is
indeed set within the frame provided by such
purely virtual projections of futurity (i.e. the
futUre grasped as the future-perfect – as what
will have been the case when our projects have
been realised, our expectations met) on the one
hand, and on the other the images of irrecoverable
pastness. Yet there seems to be no discontinuity
between the perceived and tangible situation, in
all its concreteness, and the frame of virtual
experiences in which it is set; they seem to share
a continuity of substance within a larger whole.

It almost seems (and here, perhaps, is the great
illusion) as if ordinary mundane perception was
no more than an arbitrary and partial perspective
on this larger totality. My thesis is that the
occult arises as a particular way of conceptualising the relation between consciousness and this
larger totality. We have to imagine the totality
of potential events as in some sense pre-existing
and surviving, their actualization in experience,
and of being accessible to consciousness as such.

But here is the basic difficulty, since acaessibility is precisely what is lacking. Only a
doctrine which ‘semantises’ the perceptual world
can break down the otherwise impenetrable barrier,
allowing access to the imagined totality of which
the perceived world is only a fragment. Occult
thinking is founded on the proposition that the
relation between experience and the totality of
the cosmos can be mediated by signs.

In understanding how this comes about, I find the
Husserlian idea of ‘appresentative coupling’ (as
expounded by Alfred Schutz) useful. 7 The semantisation of the world is not a decisive revolution
in thought, a leap into the absolute. On the. contrary, it is only a development of far more primitive perceptual modalities. By appresentation
Husserl refers to the effect whereby an object
within the phenomenal field of ego is. ineluctably
coupled with a sequence of constructs (which are
the outcome of the experiencer’s previous acquantance with the object in question, and his acquaint·
ance with objects in general) which allow him to
articulate the object in his phenomenal field with
the rest of his relevant experience, i.e., with
what I have elsewhere called his construction of
the world. Thus, I do not interpret the room in
which I am situated at present as an isolated
segment of space, though that is all that my
present perception reveals to me. My perceptual
synthesis does not restrict itself to the four
walls, the ceiling, and the floor that I can
actually see. Instead I understand the space in
which the room is situated as extending in three
dimensions, dimensions that I can fill in on the
basis of my previous acquaintance with the building, the kind of fUrniture it contains, the kind
of activrties which are carried out in it: and if
I happen to have no relevant experience, then I
will fill in with something vaguely typical. The
possibility that I cannot entertain is that the
world simply ends at the boundaries of my perceptual field: my act of perceiving the room as a
room commits me to situating it in a framework of
constructs or typifications of increasing generality, which, together, make up my construction of
the world.

The process of perception hence involves the
coupling together of the object given in here-andnow perception, with the typifications which it is
said to ‘appr.esent’. Thus the four walls of the
room appresent, or give me a virtual perception
of, a sequence of typically similar rooms, an
upstairs and a downstairs, a building, a townscape
with more buildings, streets and squares, with


subject. Ritual is to be understood as a device
which pre-figures this occult contingency of the
world in patterns of appresentative reference.

Byt why does Fortes find it necessary to say
that ritual ‘disguises’ the occult in bringing it
into the realm of the patent? Why does ritual
thought display such a penchant for crooked
‘knight’s moves’ in approaching its object? Here
I adopt a rather different tack from Fortes, whose
approach is strongly in~luenced by psycho-analysis,
and in particular the psychoanalytic concept of
repression. Fortes thinks that the latent symbolic
content of ritual, concerning, as it does, deepseated, unconscious, and potentially unmanageable
emotional· forces and instinctual drives, has to
be disguised in oblique symbolic language before
it can become public. Ritual symbolism, like dream
symbolism, reflects the operation of censorship.

[Fortes, 1966 :1913 1 As against this, I would be
more inclined to emphasise the logical, rather than
the affective, basis of oblique symbolisation in
ritual. Ritual is oriented towards the occult, and
the occult, as I have stressed all along, is by
nature incapable of direct representation, since it
does not correspond to anything in the world. I
would readily concede that one of the most fundamental aspects of the occult is, precisely, that
which is internal to man’s own personality: the
hidden springs of action and desire, love and hate,
which seem to lead back to a dark and autonomous
region of the spirit, inaccessible to ordinary
self-consciousness. But I would insist that direct
representation of these forces is not even a
theoretical possibility, since they have no place
in the world of objects. Hence the sole possibility
remaining is oblique expression in more or less
inadequate symbolism.

Indeed, the austerity of the ritual gesture
often seems to emphasise, rather than hide, the
inadequacy of the representation it gives to the
occult. A stone is the sun, a fragment of wood is
the’tree of the world ..• the insigificance of
ritual objects, as·objects, only serves to underline their role as mediators between experience
and contingencies which transcend experience. 8

people passing by, traffic, policemen, pigeons etc.

Or, if I am an Umeda, and I glance at the
graceful heads of the coconut palms, swaying above
the tangled undergrowth, they appresent to me the
presence of invisible houses, surrounding a cleared
space where village activities are carried out,
since for an Umeda, if not for a stranger, it is
axiomatic that coconut palms indicate the presence of an oasis of human habitation in the prevailing wilderness. In all this there is nothing
very mysterious. But I think it allows us to
place Fortes’ theory of the occult in its proper
context. Fortes’ distinction between ‘things
patent’ and ‘things hidden, or occult’ is, in my
view, a special case of the far more general phenomenon of appresentative coupling. Any act of
perception can be seen as involving a ‘patent’

aspect – the aspect of the object given me in
here-and-now perception, and a ‘hidden’ aspect,
which is given me via appresentative coupling,
which I fill in for myself in the course of articulating the object to the rest of my experience.

In the simple cases I have been considering there
is nothing distinctively occult about the ‘hidden’

aspect of the object. If one takes more complex
instances of appresentation, the extent to which
anticipated experience can be checked against actual experience. decreases progressively, until
the point is reached where no direct confirmation
or disconfirmation is possible. For instance the
physiognomy and behaviour of another person appresents, to me, their inner feelings and attitudes,
but I have no access to these inner feelings and
attitudes except via appresentation, since I can
never experience them directly. At thi
perception is semantised; the objective world
ceases to be perceived as a collection of objects,
w~~e relevance to the subject is simple character as objects, becoming instead a system of signs.

A sign is not an object whose relevance for the
perceiving subject lies in not what it is, but in
what it appresents.

The perception of meaning is built into the
mechanism of perception itself. A continuum unites
the simple perception of objects, with their appresentative ‘fringes’ and the perception of signs
and symbols whose function is to appresent their
meanings. As one proceeds along this continuum
the perceptible object becomes progressively less
relevant as an object in its own right, and progressively more relevant as the vehicle of
appresented experience which is not spatiotemporally accessible to the perceiving subject.

The use of symbols in
Having briefly sketched in this idea, the question
which now has to be asked is how ritual fits into
the scheme. Fortes describes ritual as the means
whereby the occult is ‘disguised’ and brought into
the realm of the patent. The occult has been
identified already with the imagined totality of
contingent events and process, of which actual
perception only affords us a partial glimpse,
which encompasses the thinking ahd J’>,erceiving

• •• • ••• ••

If it is conceded that, via appresentative
reference, objects in the world can ‘be perceived as
indirect representations of a totality of potential
events which transcends immediate awareness, Ithen
it is also relatively easy to see how ‘passive’

forms of ritual such as augury and divination
function as ritual means of grasping non-objective
future and past contingencies through their preand post-figurations in objectively present ritual
objects and gestures. But it is much harder to
see how ‘active’ ritual, i.e., ritual which does
not simply interpret the world but which seeks
actively to change it, is possible. Divinations
leave the world as it is, and only seek to bring
its secret history into the light of day. But
Fortes does not go on to consider the many types
of ritual which do not accept the world of intransigent fact simply as a given, but which seek
actively to transform it, by taking up the symbols

A new ideology, the ideoloby of fascism, is trying to impose itself in Chile.

It began with the burning of books, with the ‘cleaning’ of walls to remoye
the paintings the people had done, expressing their feelings;
it continued
by forcing young men to cut their ‘long’ hair, forbidding women to wear
trousers, and making ties cOlllpulsory for civil servants.

The crl!-sade in_ the defence of ‘accidental and Christian values’ ,– as the

“Hey, Hegel!

Look what a fat
little WO!’lll I’ve

“How dreadful!

kittens aren’t
prepared fa:: t



of the_o~t contingencies. which govern the
world, manipulating them and seeking thereby to
condition, symbolically, a desired outcome.

It is here that the disparity’bet~een the
symbolic means and material ends of ritual is most

Even if one accepts the truth of the
Malinowsky/Beattie thesis that ‘words’ or symbolic
action in general derive a practical potential,
from their use in social contexts, so becoming
vehicles of real power, it would also be true that
in a universe in which the magical power of words
was taken for granted, the concept of ‘symbolisation’ or ‘symbolic action’ would take on a completely different force than would be the case in
a universe where no such intrinsic efficacy was
attributed to them – precisely because, in such a
universe it is no longer possible to say of any
action that it is (only) symbolic. A universe in
which it is possible to synthesise events actively
through the manipulation of symbols is one structured, or articulated part to part, in a way which
gives an extra dimension to the notion of ‘symbol’

which is simply not present if the universe is
thougr.t of as a flux of cont~ngent events which
symbols can only reflect and interpret.

What is at issue is a reversal of the normal
polarity between the symbol and the world to which
it refers.

In passive ritual the symbol reflects
the truth of the world: in active ritual the
relation is inverted and the world reflects the
symbol. Or rather, we have a dual, reciprocal,
relation of pre-established harmony between the
two. For ritual thought, as I hinted earlier,
the phenomenal world is only fraqment of a larger
totality, and it is in the larger ~;otality that
ultimate truth and efficacy reside. Active
ritlal seeks its effect, not in make-believe, but
-iry~ligning human action with a pre-established
fabric of symbolic truth.

This emerges particularly clearly if one considers the reliance on
metaphor and metonymy which is such a salient
feature of magical rites and spells. The magician’s
way of apostrophising Nature does not put one in
mind – to revert to the Malinowski-Beattie theory
– of the direct expression of a childish demand,
a pe~emptory call on a supportive social environment (‘I want’). The statement of a desire or
wish, if it is made explicitly at all, is generally
wrapped up in a nimbus of associative imagery
which, so to speak, legitimises the wish by integrating it into a pattern of events whose inner
logic and consistency is guaranteed by the symbolic system itself and the larger totality to which
it refers.

In ritual contexts ‘poetic’ devices
such as metaphor and metonymy are not simply
r~etorical frills making for a more vivid expression:

rather, they are part of the mechanism of the magical
act itself, because they subsume the objective of the
ritual performance into a l?rger patterD within which
the 3esirable outcome is inevitable.

inner articulation of the magical universe; the
relationship which articulates events, phenomena,
qualities and so forth, each to each, in such a way
that magical operations become legitimate, and
indeed logical within a scheme of pre-established

This concept, which I have borrowed, with
certain modifications, from the writings of Jung,
is the concept of synchronicity.

Jung 9 has defined synchronicity as an ‘acausal
connecting principle’ which manifests itself as a
‘psychic relativity of space and time’.

It is a
property that the universe seems to show of
arranging events in the external world in a wav
which is intrinsically most improbable but, from
the standpoint of a particular ego, uniquely meaningful.

However, these are just phrases, and
perhaps the best way to gain an insight into the
concept is to look briefly at one of Jung’s

Jung relates that at one time he was
treating a woman patient who,

I will discuss a particulari~stance of this later

But before doing so I would like to introduce
a new concept to express what I would call the ~

… at a critical moment, had a dream in which
she was given a golden scarab. While she was
telling me this dream … I heard a noise
behind me, like a gentle tapping.

I turned
’10 sa w a f 1 YJ:ng insect knocking against
t;.c vv.. .ow and caught the creature as it flew

It was the nearest analogy to a golden
scarab that one finds at our latitudes, a
scarabeid beetle, the common rose-chafer
(Cetonia Aurata) which, contrary to its usual
habits, had evidently felt an urge to get into
a dark room at this particular moment …

[Jung: 1972: 31]
Jung believes that it is necessary to appeal to
an acausal connecting principle to account for
significant coincidences, such as this one, (whose
true degree of improbability~s perhaps rather
difficult to assess).

He also seeks to apply such
a principle to explain such things as pre-cognition,
E.S.P. experiments, astrological predictions which
prove amazingly accurate and other seemingly
‘unlikely’ but nonetheless widely-attested phenomena.

Jung thinks of synchronistic happenihgS as
being triggered off by the emergence (under suitable psychic conditions) of archetypal contents
into the conscious mind.

These archetypes are, so
to speak, eternal veri ties – to become conscious of
them is to become conscious of a system of preestablished truth about the world.

Thus, according to Jung, the scarab-beetle coincidence is to
be explained as follows.

The woman, by dreaming
of the archetypal scarab (which existed all along
in her unconscious and also in the Jungian collective unconscious), had foreknowledqe of the recounting of the dream on the following day, and the
actual appearance of the rose-chafer, a future
event which was accessible to the eternal present
of the dream.

It is not necessary to be sidetracked at this
point into assessing the evidence for and against
the paranormal phenomena discussed by Jung, such as
his attempt to demonstrate the relevance of astrological predictions by a statistical study of
marriage choices, or his account of the famous or

Junta calls its ideals, has nO~1 c’)”~e to the stage of ‘creativity’.

Addressing Chilean children, it tries to brainwash them through comic

The follO’tlimg examples were taken from a cOMic magazine with a
wide circulation called DINEY LANDIA, published in Santiago in March 1974.

“Chile Fights~ CHILE SOLIDARITY CAMPAIGN 129 Seven Sisters Ro~d,’ London
“Gulp! OG,;::.siv’~•••’Jt…_•.

I run up against
guys who are
immune to the
voice of
conscience” .

alUE <:oc:N INMUNE'b A
L,c,. VC1Z. DE. ~ C.ONC.IENc.lA.


,. ” • •• ._. •• •-tII1, .H’U.U.




notorious Rhine experiments in parapsychology, i.e.

whether such results are chance, fraud, sampling
effects, or whatever. What needs immediate clarification is the relation between what Jung calls
synchronistic phenomena, and ordinary, causa11yexplicable, phenomena. Jung seems to be asking
lS to. believe that in the flux of ordinary events
~ertain meaningful correlations are the outcome of
a pre-estab1ished order or harmony. This supramundane harmony expresses itself in meaningful conjunctions of events which defy, or are at least
independent of, ordinary causal explanation.

And these events, though concrete and part of
the real world (the rose chafer) can be actively
precipitated, but not strictly speaking caused, by
subjective states on the part of the individual who
experiences them. The psychic prerequisite for the
occurrence of synchronistic events Jung calls an
abaissement du niveau mental, which allows unconscious archetypal contents to flow into the conscious mind.

In this situation, the aforementioned
‘psychic relativity of space and time’ comes into
play, permitting pre-cognition, psycho-kinesis, etc.

etc. 10

Synchronicity and causality
I think that it would be mistaken to set up synchronicity as a competitor to causality. If synchronicity is no more than what Jung says it is,
namely, a subjectively meaningful conjunction of
events, my belief is that this leaves theprincip1e of universal causality precisely where it
is (unchallenged) and it is still necessary to seek
for causal explanations of paranormal phenomena
such as extrasensory perception, psychokinesis,
and the like.’ If synchronicity is an acausal
connecting principle, it cannot, a fortiori, cause
anything to be in any way different from what it
would be if it did not operate. Jung denies that
his concept of synchronicity is transcendental,
but I do not see any escape from the dilemma:

either synchronicity is transcendental, a second
order of truth about events which are themselves
grounded in the soil of causality, or it must intervene in causal sequences of events and is hence
not acausal at all, but a new and recondite form
of causation.

But I would prefer to leave these
possibilities aside, for they are not our immediate




Diagram 2

On the relation between synchronicity and
causality Jung writes:

The causality principle asserts that the connection between cause and effect is a necessary one.

The synchronicity principle asserts that the
terms of a meaningful coincidence are connected
by simultaneity and meaning … beside the relation between cause and effect there is another
factor in nature which expresses itself in the
arrangement of events and appears to us as

[Jung, 1972: 95]
Now it seems to me that the improbability, on a
causal hypothesis, of the events, or arrangem~nts
of events, on which Jung lays such emphasis, tends
to obscure the real significance of the idea of
synchronicity. Events which are themselves in no
way improbable may be interpreted, subjectively,
as connected ‘by simultaneity and meaning’.

The stress which both Jung (in his discussion
of synchronicity) and Fortes (in his discussion of
the occult) lay on the unlikelihood of events seems
to me no more than a by-product of their own,
western, thought-categories, and an irrelevant one
at that. Because our own explanations of phenomena
are overwhelmingly cast in a causal mould, only in
the interstices of an otherwise universal causality
would it seem that there was anything left to explain. But it is not necessary to see things in
this light. What I am postulating, as a correlate
to magical or ritual thought, is a world-construction within which events are objectively speaking
auite normal and causally-explicable (such as
births, death, marriage, productive activities, the
seasonal cycle, and so forth) – are grasped as
synchronistic phenomena, i.e., as complexes of


concern. Even granting, as I would be inclined to
do, the universal nature of ~ausa1ity, it would
remain true that the same external ~attern of
events could be interpreted synchronistically.

And this, I think, is the main point.

It may be
helpful to clarify the relation between the
postulated connecting principle (synchronicity)
and causality by means of a diagram.

relations can be imagined as lying at right angles
to the axis of causa 1i ty as shown in Diagram 1,
such that two events (A and R) are meaningfully
inter-related in terms of a constant ,scheme (0).

‘A and B may well also be causally related
through; a common antecedent (C, on Diagram 2)
– but this is not part of the ‘structure of relevances being brought to bear on them while they
are being interpreted synchronistically. Every
synchronistic event, we may assume, has a cause;
Jut this is not relevant from the point of view of
world-construct O. For 0, A and B do not appresent their causal origin. but only their synchronistic relation.

It is easier to think of this in relation to a
concr~te instance.

~he example I have chosen, for
which I am indebted to Caroline Humphrey,ll comes
from Eastern Mongolia. It is a ceremony, known as
‘the Calling up of the birds’ performed each year
at the time when the winter snows are just on the
point of melting.

In a series of chants, various
birds whose miqratorymovements are a feature of
this particular season of the year, are called
upon by the elders.

In the course of these chants
addressed to the migrating birds, many references
are included to mares, in particular to mares
dropping foals – another event which, vith the
approach of springtime, is imminent, and one which
is much closer to the vital interests of the
people than the movements of birds per se. For
mares’ milk will be the staple diet of the people

in the ensuing months. While the birds mentioned
in the chants are actually tabooed as food.

This brief example allows one to perceive
clearly the strategy of synchronistic thought.

One does not need to delve deeply into the worldwide mantic significance of birds to appreciate
the fact that the movements of birds, so apparently
arbitrary and at the same time so astonishingly
regular, are here being grasped as one term in a
twofold synchronistic relation with the mares
dropping their foals.

But the significance of the
birds in this instance is not simply mantic or
divinatory: their symchronistic relation with the
mares is here invoked actively, in order to induce
the latter to drop their foals – which is the real,
though only implicit object~ve of the ceremony.

The existence of such synchronicity relations,
conceived as being part of the inner articulation
of the world, permits the manipulation of transcendent contingencies which lie outside the sphere
of ordinary manipulations.

But how is this

My suggestion, essentially, is that through
conceiving the world, or grasping its fundamental

Occult / Tran8cendent

made to causal thinking because the causal pathways, even if they are recognised at all, only
lead back into the transcendental sphere, parallel
lines which do not meet.

It is in this context
that the triangular relation AOB, hitherto confined to the patent sphere, begins to take on its
occult significance. For whereas the causal pathways X-Y and P-Q never converge on each other or
on point 0, and are not relative to 0, this is not
the case with the synchronicity relation AB, which
is in effect constituted by o. The final step in
the analysis is therefore to see how the constitutive activity of 0 is given its transcendental or
occult interpretation. Let me recall here what I
said earlier about the occult sphere – that it is,
in effect, a kind Qf virtual space whose inner
limit or negative contour is determined by the
outer limit of a given world-construction; that
is, for any given world construction it is what
lies beyond knowing, perceiving, understanning,
and meaning.

Because this incohate external
contingent realm is by definition inaccessible
for 0, it must follow that 0 can only grasp it in
the guise of ,images, or reflections of patent,

Patent spbere

x >–

P>”—— –

Diagram 3
organizing principle, as complexes of synchronicity
relations, external contingency is made relative to
the synthesising activity of the mind. This
‘synthesising activity of the mind’ is, itself, the
process of appresentation, or meaning-giving. Thus
is made possible the inversion of the ordinary relation between the symbol and the world, of which I
spoke earlier, so that the world reflects the
symbol rather than the symbol reflecting the world.

Let me attempt to make this idea more precise.

It will be recalled that Jung calls synchronicitya ‘psychic relativity of space and time’. My
suggestion is that having grasped the world as an
articulated whole of synchronistically related
events, external contingency comes to be perceived
as symmetrical with the synthesising activity of
the mind, by a kind of mirror effect. Diagram 3
is an attempt to show this in action.

On Diagram 3 the shaded curve demarcates the
realm of the patent from the occult or transcendent
sphere. Within the patent sphere events A and B
(involving mares and birds, respectively) are,
from the standpoint of world-construction 0 linked
by the synchronicity relation AB, forming the
triangular relation AOB. The AB relation can
only be mediated via the appresentative activity
of o. A and B meanwhile lie on separate causal
pathways (P-Q and X-Y) which are either ~nknown,
or not relevant as far as 0 is concerned. What is
relevant to 0 is the precise spatio-temporal disposition of events in general, including events
A and B (and particularly A) – relative to O’s
vital interests.

But this disposition of events is largely
governed by an external contingency which lies
outside the patent sphere., The possible dispositions of events relative to O’s interests transcends his world-construction. No resort may be

that is, non-transcendental phenomena. For 0,
the occult or transcendent can only be found as
an image or cipher of something ungraspable in
itself, and the image or cipher can only exist
within, and not beyond, the boundaries of the
patent sphere. Consequently (returning to Diagram
3), we may accurately represent the patent sphere
as bounded from the transcendental sphere by a
reflecting surface – so that the external skeleton
of the world con~truct tak~s on the aspect of a
hall of mirrors – a surface which endlessly
reflects back what takes place within the space
it encloses but which has the property of seeming
to allow access to a virtual space which lies
beyond the untransgressable boundaries of the

If this description is accurate, then it is
possible to see how the synchronicity relation AOB
in the patent sphere is reflected in the occult
sphere by a second triangle 0′ 0′ B’ (cf. Diagram 3)
– which is a reflection in virtual, transcendental
space of the constitutive activities of the mind,
i.e. of its original appresentative synthesis of
the AB relation. And what·is more, because the
transcendental sphere can only reflect back the
contents and inner articulation of the patent
sphere, there ceases to be any phenomenological
contrast between the two – each contains and exhausts the other. The world construct 0, as the
reflected image of itself (0′) in transcendental
space, becomes no longer the constitutive principle
of the inner articQlation of the patent sphere,
‘but the constitutive principle which articulates
external contingency.

3 Coriclusion:zero transcendence
The argument has now reached its final stage.

According to my analysis Magica”l or Ritual thought
has its origin in the reflection in the transcend-


ental sphere of the constitutive activities of mind.

I began with the idea of the occult, the domain of
virtual, unaccessible, but crucially important
contingencies which seems to enfold the patent
sphere, the sphere of actual existence, actual
experience, actual manipulation.

I then·introduced the notion of appresentation. Through
appresentative coupling the thinking subject has
access to potential perceptions and potential
experiences which more or less definitively transcendithe domain of his actual here-and-now perception.

Leaving the domain of actual or potential
perception and experience behind~ appresentation
articulates this experience within a framework of
constructs or typifications; the world is
‘semantised’ and understood in terms of complexes
of meaning. Thus the subject fills in the meaningful articulation of his world.

Next, we must
clarify the relation between the idea of appresentation, which, in primitive or elaborated form, is
a feature of all perceptual and cognitive activity,
including symbolic thought, and the idea of synchronicity which is more specifically occult in
its implications. Appresentation is a relation
between a thing and an idea, between the meaningful object and the meaning it bears for the perceiving subject.

Synchronicity is more complex
than this, for it is a relation between things (or,
as it is more convenient to call them, events) which is established by their common participation
in a subjectively grasped scheme of meanings; that
is, their co-occurrence appresents a scheme of
pre-established harmony which manifests itself in
the arrangement of events.

In synchronicity, the
sUbjective process of establishing meaningful relations between events in the world is reflected
m~k in quasi-objective form as an organizing
principle revealed in events themselves. Hence the
idea of synchronicity allows us to unoerstand how
events in the external world come to be seen as
being articulated, one to another by virtue of the
constitutive or meaning-giving activities of mind.

In objectivised form, as synchronicity-relations,
the organising activities of mind are reflected
back, as images of a transcendent order. And by
invoking synchronicity relations, by weaving them
into patterns of symbolic action, magical thought
seeks both access to, and control over, the hidden
contingencies which govern human life.

But in conclusion I would like to re-emphasise
the point made earlier that the real world within
which magic strives to attain its concrete ends,
and the pseudo-world, the reflected or virtual
world towards which it turns in its search for the
sources of contingency are indeed one and the same.

And it is this, in the last resort, that is the
undoing of magic – not that it flies from the
factual world, but that it mirrors it with too
much fidelity.

Magical thought can only reflect
the world, and cannot change it, because ‘it cannot
escape the obdurate world of things. Outside the
boundaries of the world construct there is really
nothing at all, transcendence is zero transcendence,
a field of empty possibility corresponding to

Having postulated transcendence as something which exists beyond the boundaries of the
world-construct, an external contingency which
seems almost tangible, but which is really nothing
and nowhere, Magical thought is seduced by the
images it makes of something that by definition
cannot be represented.

In attempting to make forays
into this transcendent domain, magical thought only
encouters its own reflections, endlessly adumbrated in looking-glass space. And in identifying
its own constitutive activities as the constitutive principle of external contingency, magical
thought capitulates to the very contingency it
seeks to transcend. As the hidden hand behind
the totality of what there is, magical thought is
ineluctibly bound to accommodate itself to every
new turn of events. And, in order to claim its
victories it must subject itself to the discipline


of the contingent fact, a discipline which has its
origin in the very claim magic makes to control

Seeking to fly from the world in order to regain the world, magical thought only loses
itself in zero transcendence.








For a number of very stimulating conversations
before and during the writing of this paper I
am greatly indebted to Caroline Humphrey, who
also criticised the first draft and provided the
example analysed in the concluding part of the
paper. Without her active help it would have
undoubtedly been a very different paper, and
probably even more obscure. Needless to say,
she is not resporisible for its remaining imperfections, nor for the accuracy of my remarks
on Eastern Mongolian ritual.

I publish it here
as it ~as delivered at the Seminar on Symbol and
Sentiment organised by Ioan Lewis, though I
have been made aware, during the discussion at
that and other seminars, that the argument is
susceptible to development in a number of directions.

In effect, here is a general metaphysical argument, which ought to be placed more
explicitly in relation to post-Kantian philosophy (in particular, the views of Schopenhauer
and Wittgenstein on the ‘limits’ of sense).

But it would take me too far, and it would
infringe on a study of the nature of God which
I would like to undertake elsewhere.

I have
also been made conscious of the fact that much
of what I say is impli~’it in the rich storehouse of Sudanic ethnography (particularly
Leinhardt’s Divinity and Experience (1961) and
Evans-Pritchard’s Zande Theology (1936).

Robin Horton, ‘Ritual Man in Africa’, Africa
XXXIV (1964) pp85-104; John Beattie, ‘,Ritual
and Social Change’, Man, (N.S.) (1966) Vol.l

Cf. P Berger and T Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality, London, 1966.

I use ’caused’ here for conve~ience only.

Later in the paper I will argue that not
causality, but synchronicity, is involved
here (see below).

Philosophic,d Transactions of the Royal Society
of London, series B Vol.251, 1966.

Karl Jaspers, Philosophy, Vol.III, trans Ashton,
Chicago, 1971.

Edmund Husserl, Cartesian Meditations, trans
Cairns, 1973, Hague; Alfred Schutz, Collected
Papers, Vol.I, Hague, 1973.

Cf. Caroline Humphrey, Buriyat Magical Drawings,
1972, unpublished PhD thesis, University of

Carl G. Jung, Synchronicity, An Acausal Connecting Principle, London, 1972 (1955).

Jung attempts to demonstrate his synchronicity
principle (I would not care to say whether
successfully or otherwise) ‘by showing its role
in bringing about effects which simply cannot
be explained in “any other way, i. e. on a causal
hypothesis. But to my mind, should he ever
succeed in doing this, he would thereby also
succeed in demonstrating a new source of natural causation, not an acausal connecting princ”
iple, as he claims. For instance, if it is true
that individuals whose horoscopes match up in
accordance with certain conjunctions are prone’

to marry in excess of chance, then this, surely,
is a factor which will have to be taken into
account by students of mate-selection in man,
along with the more orthodox determinants of
marriage choices, such as relative age, relative social class, patterns of work, leisure
activity and so forth.

Personal communication.

Download the PDFBuy the latest issue