I was reading John Michael Greer's latest post on the role of the Wizard in the Dark Ages, and how that relates to the tricky place we are currently balancing in the Technological Age, and it reminded me of some posts I've been meaning to make for some time now, on symbolism and ideas, but first I'd like to talk about something a bit more concrete: Natural Philosophy.
I like the term. It has a good aesthetic for me. Say it with me: Natural Philosophy. Good. I didn't always like the term, though. Strayed too close to math and science for my Jr. Occultist tastes. Not nearly fringe or freaky enough. But as I've aged, and especially as I've studied Taoism, and Alchemy I've grown an appreciation and dare I say affection for it.
To me, in comparison to a strict dogmatic philosophy, where everything must be justified by either tradition or scripture of some sort*, Natural Philosophy is very open ended, exploratory.
Reading JMG's article I've realized how boxed in my previous view was. Though I changed it years ago, I still suffer, on occasion, from monomania, that fixation on one thing that Occultist tend to get. Magi of yore were by and large, polymaths (another good word), they were in to everything, and had much more breadth of wisdom than a specialist, and as a result were of much more use generally.
The key, I think, wasn't just an impressive brain to store data, but also a system of filing and framing based, many times, on the natural world. It's not just knowing a bunch of bits of data, they must connect and make sense. That, to me, is what Natural Philosophy does based on one simple rule: Does this work? Once you find the result you want, you can dream a score of ways to produce it.
Astrology, Traditional Medicine, Alchemy, are all disciplines of Natural Philosophy. The ancients weren't stupid. They value their lives and the lives of their children and culture just as much as we do, and they did so in a world of much fiercer economy. If medicine didn't work, they would stop using it quickly, and in many cases quite possibly kill the incompetent physician. Astrology was used because it produced results in the hands of a skilled Astrologer. Alchemy, for all the frauds in the discipline, produced reliable results enough to carry on. There were other disciplines too, like physics, mathematics, political science, history, philosophy, what became anthropology and psychology. Chemistry and Pharmacology were once sub disciplines of Alchemy. And of course our beloved Sorcery, at the time the least understood. All survived because they WORKED. "Success is thy proof" after all.
Buddhist Philosophy, I count as something very much in line with Natural Philosophy. There was a problem: Suffering. The Problem was analyzed, and an open ended solution found. The whole science of Karma being simply the study of cause and effect on all levels, from mental, to social, to physical, and on from the most subtle to the most gross. The Dharma is implicit in Nature and Naturally arising. The Dharma is "The Truth of How Things Are". The Buddha Dharma is The Truth of How Things Are in relation to the causes of suffering, the path to freedom from suffering, and the nature of your own mind.
Like any other Geek scene (And we are, kids! A true gearhead is a car geek, and a fashionista is a clothes geek, do not be fooled!) we run the risk of isolating ourselves into our in group, seeking status there, and shunning folk who don't really understand us. I think, from now on, I will do much better to consciously embrace a more wholistic view of the world. Specialists can get very boxed in to seeing things through the lens of their specialty. It is only natural, but like my beloved Mentats I will strive to be a generalist, to see the whole, and how things fit within it.
*Modern Materialist Science is just as guilty of this in some circles as anyone with a revealed text.