how to be good, maybe, just a little

There are a lot of questions that you can fudge, defer and brazen out, that you can outgrow and shed, paint over and file away, but some I think prove persistent, beneath the flaking and peeling layers of thought and pragmatism. I think questions of the nature of “goodness”, and how and if one can or should try to live according to that quality, come under that category.

I don’t have an un-embattled history with the whole field of moralism, and moral judgement. Put simply, when it isn’t demonizing you, then the lack of meaningful moral coherence in the world is driving me pretty crazy. Last year I wrote a post on the subject, including the following:

‘I’m trying to remember, when I look at the world, that “out there” there is no right and wrong, because those are things that people make up as they go along. It’s not that I don’t believe in a more profound sense of “the good”, because I do. But the compulsive, emotional, thought structured “goods” and “bads” that people are driven by, they are imaginary, even if the imagination is often inherited. And remembering that relieves the expectations of the human world, and also brings a possibility of compassion into the equation’

I continue to find it useful to remind myself of that, and I think it is undoubted that our relative senses of “right” and “wrong”, “good” and “bad”, is exactly that, ie relative and contingent upon all manner of social, psychological and historical factors. Further more, the “making it up as we go along” element is I think also under-appreciated. Moralists are not a friend to my sense of sanity, or the sanity of the world as far as I can see, and that’s another reason that politics and political ideology generally get classed a long way below used cat litter on my list of things to be involved with.

And that is all true for me, but it remains that the inner sense of “the good” is as compellingly real to me as any other subsisting part of life. It would be impossible for me to not see what I recognize as a “good” man, woman, person, heart, when I see it. It is not a top note, and it does not dissipate quickly. It resonates and hurts, because it makes you remember and love.  That is at least how I see it.

There is something slow about all this. Slow to grow, slow to learn, slow to achieve. No one gets that thing without work, without patience and persistence, and without a deal of suffering. I think that is in part the mark of practical wisdom. Much as I am unimpressed by supposed “spiritual practice”, I think it takes a great deal of practice to be a better person. But it also takes real honesty, because nothing is more tin plated fake than “acting spiritual”.

Where love and failure meet, that’s where human life happens. And what do we do with that?

It does seem that it is innumerable, small things done or kept from doing, that save people’s worlds by and large. And while that is a very down home philosophy, and easily shot down, there is the intimation of a calling there. I’m rather reminded of “The Hierophant”  card in the tarot, often shown as rather square and conventional, and really not that interesting or mystical. For sure it is a card that can have failings, inevitable failings, and a shadow of conformism and falsified, organized spirituality, but there is also a kindness and a benevolence to the card which betrays heart in practice.

Just occasionally I’m reminded that there is a possibility to make small, private choices that allow us to bear the ache in the heart, that lets us drop the hurtful or the pointlessly savage, listen to the space, and not deny our fallibility and failure, nor our life and desire, but continue anyway, just a very little differently.

It is not a whole answer. If it were, the world would be a very different place, but we take for granted what it achieves, and we forget that it is only there when there is a real and fallible human being embodying it, with the private weight that entails. And of course sometimes a person actually does better when they are walking in the opposite direction, because the “rules” don’t actually work as rules.

You can very reasonably ask “what does this have to do with magick?”, and I don’t have any complete answer on that. Magick is bigger than any single area or endeavour; it is the writing and un-writing of everything, real, impossible and “non-existent”. But bigger than “the good”, or love, or the heart? There’s no answer there.

“Do What thou Wilt” may be the whole of the Law, but Love is that Law (and it is Agapé in the Thelemic equation), even if it is Love under Will. There’s no doubt for me that there needs to be a Self, and a magickal, gratifying, sovereign self, even in order to be authentically “selfless”. People explore limits, not in order to be limited, but in order to grow.

I wouldn’t go blabbing about “goodness”, but if you’re going to eat, it’s in the kitchen, even when it doesn’t appear on the menu.


Diogenes and Plato by Mattia Preti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, electronically altered, with addition of image of Mars by Hendrik Goltzius [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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