Demystifying Ethereal Software

by Mike Sententia on January 31, 2014

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Let’s clear up some misconceptions about ethereal software.

This post was inspired by Ananael’s comment, where he laid out some of his understanding of my model. Now, Ananael is an experienced mage, a longtime reader, and generally a smart guy. If he’s misunderstanding my model, others probably do too. Which means I should try to explain it more clearly.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Ethereal Software = Egregore

Not really. But it’s a good starting point.

Words do two things. First, they point to external objects. That man, this cup, those ships. We use words to point to things.

In that sense, “ethereal software” and “egregore” both point to the same external objects — the forces we contact and channel for magick.

But words also suggest purpose, use, and other connotations. Is that music, or just noise? Is it graffiti or art? I chose to use a new term because I disagree with the connotations around egregores — where they come from, how to best use them, and so on. I discuss that here (written when I used the word “system” instead of “ethereal software.”)

Programming vs Using

When I use ethereal software, I tell it what I want to happen. That could be a short instruction (“make me successful in this job interview”) or complex (“heal this cold, and adjust the signature every 5 minutes for the next 24 hours“). Note that I never said how to make me successful, or what energy to use for the cold. I assumed the software already knew how to do that.

When I program ethereal software, I show it how to do something new. For energy healing, that means using my ethereal muscles to produce energy in certain signatures, showing the ethereal software which tissues get those signatures, and describing what to do: “When I tell you to reduce her auto-immune sensitivity, apply this signature throughout her body for 3 hours.”

In order to program ethereal software, you must first do the magick without the software. That’s the origin of the term “direct magick”: Doing magick by directly applying connections and energy and other magickal structures, rather than telling a force what we want to happen.

You’ll notice that, just like computer software, programming and using are two separate skills, and generally not done at the same time. First you program ethereal software, then you (or someone else) uses it.

Most people never program ethereal software. I didn’t program anything until I’d been doing magick for almost 20 years, and doing it directly for 5-10 years. These forces can already do so much, it’s just rare to run into things they can’t handle.

(There’s also a middle-ground, where you name a complex command so you can use it easily. For example, “Whenever I tell you to heal a cold, by default, adjust the signature every 5 minutes for the next 24 hours.” Useful when making a command for someone else to use, if they cannot clearly communicate complex commands.)

Ethereal Software and Rituals

Rituals aren’t required to use ethereal software. In fact, most of the software I personally use was designed for spirits, and has no concept of a ritual; you have to communicate by packaging your thoughts into a message, like when you talk to spirits. But lots of mages do rituals, and Ananael was asking about them, so let’s talk rituals.

Ananael says:

As a ceremonial practitioner, if I’m going to employ a software metaphor at all it seems to me that the “commands” in magick are akin not to each variation of a full ritual but rather the spirit names, words of power, and figures employed to construct those rituals. The “programming” takes place when a magician assembles those “commands” into a structure. So the Star Ruby is separate from an LRP because it calls on different names and godforms, but if you take apart the LRP, keep all the names and spirits, and put it back together to look more like a Star Ruby (which as I recall I sent you an example of) it’s still an LRP, just optimized differently.

I think this is a miscommunication about just what it means to “program” ethereal software.

Ananael is communicating his intent to the ethereal software. He’s doing it using a complex symbolic language. I can see why he might think of that as programming.

But remember, programming is when you show ethereal software how to do something it doesn’t understand yet. What signature to apply to which tissue for a particular healing technique. It’s not about explaining your goals, it’s about doing the magick yourself, with your own ethereal muscles, so the software can copy you.

(I’m not sure what the equivalent would be for manifesting, I haven’t programmed that software yet. But the first step would be figuring out how it functions under the hood, doing what the manifesting software does using only your own ethereal muscles, then showing it how to do that new technique. Which isn’t the sort of thing a normal user needs to do.)

The rituals I’ve seen — LBRP, OTO Mass, a few others — seem like a way to express your intent using a complex symbolic language. Someone (probably a spirit) programmed those symbols and correspondences into the software, then people learn the symbols and correspondences and use them to communicate with the software. It’s rather clever, actually, because it’s probably easier to explain these symbols than it is to explain how to clearly communicate with the software using only your thoughts. But the programming happened earlier, when that spirit set the software to know how to implement those commands and intents.

Modifying Rituals

One more misunderstanding to clear up:

As I recall, you originally came up with the idea based on the concept that ceremonial magicians don’t change their rituals. The implication there, then, is that any trivial change to something like the LRP makes it “different software.” But to anyone who’s practiced the ritual that obviously isn’t true – magicians vary it all the time within reason and it works the same way and draws the same energy.

The origins are quite different, actually. I originally noticed how all these different systems of magick, with different theories about why magick works and how to use it, produced similar results. That suggests there’s a single mechanism shared by all those systems.

Also, the changes in the world that magick creates are much more complex than you could express in a sigil or ritual. Whatever magick does at the atomic level, however it figures out what will happen in the future and which ways to influence the present, something extremely complex must be going on. Which means something equally complex must be driving those changes, taking our instructions and figuring out the details of creating that change in the world.

(That equally complex thing is a combination of the software itself, and the spirits / people who programmed it.)

Now, the details of ethereal software — how we connect and interact, what exactly it does, if there’s one or many of them, etc — didn’t come from those ideas. The details came from working with ethereal software, asking spirits about it, and testing things out myself and with other people.

As for changing a ritual, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Remember how my sigil has 6 symbols? My ethereal software is bound to each symbol. So, you could mess with the overall sigil, reorganize the symbols, even change some of them, and it would probably still work. Redundancy is your friend, and I bet there’s more than one symbol involved in most of your rituals.

When you begin your ritual, the software is already out there, already made. If your ritual uses enough standard symbols and steps, the software will connect to you. If your ritual doesn’t, the software won’t. But doing something weird won’t get you different software, unless you accidentally modified your symbols to look like another system’s symbols.

And all of that is interesting, but probably not what’s at work here. Because doing a standard ritual is just one way to get software to connect. Much more common — the only thing I do, and from what I’ve seen, the normal way ritual practitioners do it too — is to just think about the magick you want to do. See, once you’ve used some ethereal software a few times, (once if you focus on it), your ethereal muscles will remember its signature. And most software will leave a tiny connection to you, to let you contact it again — all my software does this, anyway. So, just remembering the signature will let you contact that software again.

So, when an experienced ritual practitioner does some weird ritual, whether it’s a modified LBRP or some made up thing about Superman? They’re probably contacting the ethereal software by remembering its signature and letting it read their intent. No ritual required.

What does the ritual do, then? At a minimum, if rituals are how you do magick, they’ll help you focus. But I also expect (but don’t know) that most ethereal software used in ritual magick is programmed to respond to the ritual, to take the ritual into account when interpreting the intent it reads from the practitioner’s mind. I could see that adding redundancy to the communication with the ethereal software, and as we all know, redundancy is your friend.

Does that help? I’d like to know if this is clarifying things, for Ananael and the rest of you, so I know if I should go into this in my book. Thanks!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Sententia January 31, 2014 at 5:58 PM

And if you’re wondering, “Why bother with ethereal software, what does it let you do that I couldn’t do without that in my model,” well, that post is coming next week.

Update: Post is here http://www.magickofthought.com/2014/02/spirits-readmes-and-other-ethereal-software-tricks/

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Ananael Qaa February 3, 2014 at 10:02 AM

Just to clarify a bit, the explanation that I gave in your first quotation is not my understanding of what you’re saying about your model, but rather how I would translate my own model of how magick works into a software metaphor.

As far as I can tell, the first big difference between our interpretation is the level of granularity. I can see treating spiritual forces as software of one sort or another, even though I think there are some issues with the connotations implied by the metaphor, but I would call the LRP a ritual that pulls 8 pieces of software together (4 names of power + 4 archangel names, though the archangels are also specific spirits) whereas you see it as one big piece.

As an aside, the LRP also evolved over a period of time, and I’m not sure how that fits into your characterization of it as “programmed by spirits.” The original outline was by Eliphas Levi in Transcendental Magic (1854) and the next publication of it (and the first of the complete ritual) was in Crowley’s Equinox #2 (1909). Regardie published the Golden Dawn material in 1934, and it was clear from some of those documents that the ritual dates back to the founding of the Golden Dawn in 1887. Most believe that Mathers actually wrote the original version, but there have been many variations since. In particular, the last line – “And in the column stands the six-rayed star” in the Crowley version – gets changed a lot, depending on the teacher.

The second big difference between our interpretations is that I’m not necessarily convinced the changes in the world that magick creates are nearly as complex as you seem to think. That was what I was trying to get at with the magnet example. You could look at magnetic attraction as the countless individual molecules in the magnetic exerting a specific force with a particular vector on each of the countless individual iron molecules in the object the magnet is attracting, which would give you trillions of possible combinations that would need to be accounted for by something highly complex. But because we’re dealing with a field effect from the magnet, the attraction can happen all at once and we know the magnet isn’t doing any sort of complex information processing.

It’s a bit of a cliche, but consider the Schoedinger’s Cat thought experiment. Because of how the experiment is designed, a whole complex set of macrocosmic events hinge on a single quantum wavefunction. If I want to influence the outcome of that experiment, I’m not going to cast a spell to (A) locate the piece of radioactive material, (B) identify which of the atoms within it is about to decay, (C) find the particular quark that needs to be pushed a certain way to change that outcome, and (D) give it the proper push. You’re right that such a sequence is extremely complex, and if that’s how you imagine it working, I can see where you would feel that something complex outside the individual magician’s mind would be needed to get it done.

But here’s what I really do – I’m going to connect my consciousness to the wavefunction governing the outcome of the experiment and then transfer information from my field of consciousness to the wavefunction itself – before it collapses. Modifying a wavefunction is totally possible in quantum physics; the slit experiment confirms it. The action of consciousness is more questionable, but mostly because we don’t have the tools at this point to explore it. But once the wavefunction shifts, matter follows the form that it suggests in whatever manner satisfies the wave equation. You don’t need to know about individual quarks and so forth to make it work.

So I think those are the main points of incompatibility between our models. I appreciate the more detailed description here and I think it does help explain where you’re coming from. I just don’t think we’ll be in agreement any time soon over them without some sort of objective experiment demonstrating one versus the other – and I honestly have no idea how either of us would set something like that up.

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George February 20, 2014 at 6:54 AM

The whole ethereal software thing does seem to add layers of explanation and activity that are not required. Surely we should be aiming to strip things down to the basics. I know Chaos Magick tried this, but it didn’t go far enough and then lost its way I think.

What is magick really? A way of producing a certain subjective experience in the future (eg, I will experience my brother getting well again). How does one go about this? Perhaps just the same way you go about, say, deliberately raising your arm: you make a decision about what is to happen, what experience you want, and then get out of the way.

Now in truth, your arm moves all the time without you deliberately doing anything, gesticulating as you talk and lifting your coffee and so on, and you never consider how it is that ‘you’ do it. It’s only if you pause and decide to do it ‘deliberately’ that you consider some method is required. If you just get out of the way, your arm naturally contributes to your endeavours without any specific effort. Perhaps this is the case with magick: it’s happening all the time, it’s how the universe works, as an extension of our arms in effect. It’s only because we are stopping to deliberately consider it that we feel the need to propose mechanisms.

So perhaps then, Magick simply = making a decision of a desired experience, performing any act while having in mind that this experience will occur, and getting out of the way…

Any additional visualisations and other rituals are fine, but they all amount to just additional ‘acts’ along the way.

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Mike Sententia February 20, 2014 at 11:39 AM

A model should be as simple as possible, but no simpler.

I get what you’re trying to do, comparing doing magick to moving your arm. Because the act of doing magick can feel similar to moving your arm — you think it and it happens. But there’s a lot of complexity there.

Heck, there’s a lot of complexity in moving your arm. It involves nerves and muscles and specific parts of the brain. If you just want to move a healthy arm, you don’t need that extra detail, but if you want to perform reconstructive surgery, well, it matters a great deal.

The point of direct magick is to get beyond the subjective experience of doing already-known magick, into the underlying mechanisms that make that magick work, so we can take it apart and build new techniques from those mechanisms. And to do that, we need a model closer to “this brain region, those nerves, these muscles” than “just think about it and your arm moves.”

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