Hello, everyone. I’m writing this during the United States’s final presidential debate. I realize I really should be watching, but I find it far too depressing. So, I’m writing instead!
Today, I’d like to discuss the concept of the psychic censor, which goes by other names as well, such as the gatekeeper.
This concept is discussed within the literature of chaos magick iIt was Austin Osman Spare who coined the term. It isn’t often something that gets mentioned in texts about witchery in particular, or in most circles outside of chaos magick. Witchery books that do mention it tend to do so in veiled terms, and most don’t address it at all.
I’d like to change that, because it’s a highly universal, useful concept. It describes an important facet of most will-workers’ reality.
I’ll add this essay to my beginning witchcraft collection, however this topic is not easy to grasp or explain. To help, I’ll be referencing existing works that give descriptions of this concept, and I do encourage you to not take my word for things – do your own reading and see what others are saying, too.
What is the Psychic Censor?
Magick is the act of causing change to occur in the universe in conformity with the Will, and involves exercise of the Will through mechanisms as yet not readily understood.
I firmly believe that all humans have the ability to practice magick, though not all of us have the interest or inclination in pursuing it. Think about it: every culture has some variety of magical tradition. This shows that magick is owned by no particular person, group, culture, religion or civilization. It is is instead a widespread phenomenon to which most people have theoretical access.
Most of this is accepted by the majority of witches and magicians to some degree. It raises some questions, though, that far too often go unasked. Namely, we’re left to wonder:,
- If magick is such a universal phenomenon, why don’t more people practice it?
- Why is is difficult?
- If toying with reality through arcane means is possible, why is our world as stable as it is?
I do believe everyone has the potential to be a magician, but, if you grant me that, you must then wonder why everyone isn’t a magician, witch, or other will-worker and why spells don’t fill the air in untold multitudes, creating utter chaos.
We can only theorize about this, but the most compelling explanation that I’ve run across is the notion of the psychic censor.
The term sounds dreadfully Dungeons and Dragons, but is actually just a poetic term for the magical self-censoring mechanism within each individual.
We can likely agree that a world populated solely by full-on magicians constantly rewriting reality according to their whims would not be compatible with life as we know it.
Thus, some authors have posited the existence of a mental faculty that prevents this by creating stumbling blocks for the individual’s attempts to rewrite reality through magick. Austin Osman Spare is among the first that I know of write about this possibility.
He coined the term psychic censor. Later authors (notably Peter Carroll) have taken it up and fleshed it out, offering their own theories. Carroll, in his seminal book, Liber Null & Psychonaut, writes:
“When people are presented with real magical events they somehow manage not to notice. If they are forced to notice something uncontrovertably magical they may become terrified, nauseated, and ill. The Psychic Censor shields us from intrusions from other realities. It edits out most telepathic communication, blinds us to prescience, and reduces our ability to register significant cant coincidences, or recall dreams. The psychic censor is not just put there out of divine malice; ordinary physical life would be impossible without it. It would be like living permanently under the influence of hallucinogens … The psychic censor … is a material thing which protects the mind from magic and from being overwhelmed by the awesome strangeness of the psychic dimension which appears to us as chaos.”
Peter J. Carroll. Liber Null & Psychonaut: An Introduction to Chaos Magic (Kindle Locations 1287-1293). Kindle Edition.
Being a chaote, Carroll sees fit to term the forces at work in magical exercises as “chaotic,” but one can certainly apply the idea to other paradigms and traditions.
Magick is perhaps capable of being harnessed by all people, yet few do, because, either by accident, evolution, or design, the human race has developed a mental mechanism that censors out the experience of it, blinding us to second sight.
As Carroll suggests, the psychic censor should not be seen as a mere devil to be defeated in the quest for magical power – quite to the contrary, it’s presence makes life in our reality possible by seeing that we are not overwhelmed.
It’s a complicated issue. The use of the term “censor” is particularly evocative, because, to me, all magick is inherently a communication between the practitioner and the universe.
Just as an actual person working as a censor might pour over a manuscript and edit out references to naughty bits, so the psychic censor in our mind preemptively reigns in our communications (either aloud or internal) and steers us away from anything that might alter reality.
It would be quite one thing if this psychic censor only edited out those bits that had the potential to cause lasting harm. Instead, this faculty tends to censor any and all sentiments that might have a magical impact.
This is problematic for the aspiring magician or witch, but makes sense for humanity as a species – we would not have lasted very long if we were all competing for the ultimate “rewrite” of reality.
The Reality Police: Misconceptions and Observations
I use the term psychic censor, because it’s the most common term, but sometimes I like to think of this faculty as a sort of “reality police.” I call it that jokingly, though, and the concept is actually pretty complex, and rife with misconceptions.
The psychic censor is internal, and not some nebulous outside force bearing down on our minds. In his book, Hands-On Chaos Magic, Andrieh Vitimus suggests that the psychic censor is not actually a natural part of the human mind, but rather, he implies it results merely from cultural programming. He writes:
Collectively, we are trained to believe that there is no “magic” and that our thoughts cannot change the “real world.” Children are taught that make-believe is bad. Sooner or later, we all stop believing we can dream. We have a psychic censor, which is an internal influence that limits our conception of what is possible regarding magic and spirituality. When you believe something is not possible, it is not.”
Andrieh Vitimus. Hands-On Chaos Magic: Reality Manipulation through the Ovayki Current (Kindle Locations 476-478). Kindle Edition.
This is a common perspective on the psychic censor, especially among today’s crowd. Many people are often obsessed with being more “woke” and free of cultural constraints than the next guy. Indeed, I do agree that, more often than not, culture is not your friend.
I don’t see the psychic censor as merely a cultural thing, though – were that the case, those raised beyond the bounds of culture, or within select cultures that wholeheartedly embrace magick, would be magical virtuosos from birth, yet we don’t see that happening. Such people tend to have just as much difficulty and require relatively the same mechanisms for performing magick that the rest of us do.
I argue that culture, so often hostile to the idea of the paranormal and magical, is such because of the psychic censor’s central place in the human consciousness, rather than having created it from whole cloth.
Carroll himself calls the psychic censor “physical,” and I’ve always took this to mean it’s a nigh-on biological feature of our minds, having evolved in tandem with our magical abilities to allow us more finesse.
Every time I mention the psychic censor in normal conversation with other practitioners, though, the first topic raised tends to be “What would life be like without one?” and I’ll usually come across someone claiming they don’t have a psychic censor.
think the latter is impossible, and the former is a useless question, if only because the absence of a psychic censor would, by all accounts, be incompatible with life.
Some authors (Carroll included) suggest hallucinogens blind the psychic censor. Granting that this could be true, we must see the hallucinogenic experience as a taste of what life would be were one born without a censor.
Could you imagine living like that on a daily basis? Not only that, but could you imagine doing so in a situation where every thought or whim that crosses your mind manifests instantly into reality? I couldn’t, and such a life would be so utterly alien to humanity as it currently exists, that, as I’ve said, the question of it’s possibility is useless. We simply would not be who we are as a species without this faculty.
Certain very misguided and ill-researched books and authors have posited that those suffering from disorders such as schizophrenia are free from the psychic censor and therefore ideal shamans and healers. This is pretty nonsensical. It’s true that many mental illnesses and related disorders can cause some intense experiences that may seem magical or psychic to some, but how many schizophrenics do you know who spontaneously manifest their delusions (for example) into reality? I would guess none.
As someone who has struggled with such a disorder in the past, I find the notion that mental illness somehow makes me a natural will-worker destined to heal the planet a condescending and ridiculous platitude.
And, as I’ve said, it’s not born out by reality – those with mental illnesses work and practice just like everyone else to learn magick, and nothing about our illness makes it easier or suggests we’re somehow “gifted.”
Others erroneously believe the psychic censor is represented by the logical, rational faculties of the mind. This seems to stem from the idea that magick is wholly intuitive and therefore always at odds with reason. Thus some assume that the psychic censor that prevents it must be a hyper-rational stereotype.
This is wrong on many levels, in my opinion. Anyone who has performed successful magick knows that quite often it involves both rational and intuitive faculties, and one must realize that there’s nothing rational about the censor’s refusal to allow us to acknowledge magick.
On the contrary, I’d argue that the censor is almost atavistic, a very old part of our minds that, while existing for a reason and serving a purpose, does not follow what we normally consider human reason.
It’s true that societal institutions that claim rationality (as well as various religions, other philosophies, and the whole gamut of human culture) sometimes have a propensity to act as vehicles for our own self-censorship magically, but this is more a case of the psychic censor making use of any tools at its disposal to keep us within what some call “consensus reality.”
Selectively Bypassing the Psychic Censor
Bypassing the psychic censor is a powerful key to effective magick. I could write for ages and ages about methods for doing this, (and indeed, I have done so in many articles), but really, all basic techniques of magick, ranging from visualization to symbolism, to concepts of liminality and beyond, are designed to, in some way, do this. This is far from their only purpose, but over the past few thousand years, humanity has discovered, codified, and documented many ways of getting past this tricky critter. To go over all of them (and there are truly infinite ways) would be beyond the scope of this article.
Most of these can be integrated into your personal practice via rigorous study and experimentation with techniques from existing traditions. Also, naturally, we’ve all the propensity to develop our own novel approaches. You really must experiment, because everyone is unique. Each of us is likely to have a psychic censor working slightly differently than all others, just due to the influence of our personalities and other factors.
For example, I’ve found that I have more success with verbal sigils as opposed to sketched or drawn ones, and while I get results with both, I have reason to believe that the verbal sigils bypass my personal psychic censor much more easily than the sketches. Why? I’m not sure yet, but part of the journey is working out what works for you, and seeking to discover why.
Along with experimentation, when seeking to quell your psychic censor’s propensity for mischief, practice is incredibly important. Just like with anything else in your mind, the censor can be slowly (de)programmed, trained, or conditioned into silence during certain situations. This will make your magick more effective. Realize though, that it’s impossible to completely destroy the psychic censor, and for reasons I’ve discussed already, it wouldn’t even be desirable to do so.
A word about drugs. Beginning with Carroll, many published authors writing about magick have hinted or outright stated that hallucinogens such as LSD and others paralyze the psychic censor. I’m not really a partaker of such substances, but I do have a very liberal attitude towards drugs, so I’m not going to tell people not to take them – it’s simply not my business.
I do consider what some term “chemognosis” (seeking wisdom through chemicals) to be a valid experience. Indeed, many cultures and indigenous traditions consider hallucinogenic plants to be sacred and use them in a ritual context.
Still, as I’ve said, I don’t typically use heavy hallucinogens in my practice (or recreationally), so I can’t give any advice on their use or recommend anything, beyond urging folks to use common sense. Beyond that, it’s not my area, nor my place to comment. Just be careful out there.
If I can just speak about what works best for me, I would say that strong emotions, ideally evoked by transportive works of art (literature, visual, or audible, and then some) tend to help me bypass my psychic censor most effectively. These things have more or less become a major cornerstone of my personal practice, something I obsess over and devour for the sake of its meaningfulness. Everyone’s different, though, and you might find other experiences work better for you.
Reality Police Personified
Regardless of what kind of magick you’re practicing, your relationship with your own psychic censor should not be adversarial. Since a witch or magician must necessarily subvert it often, an antagonistic element is somewhat expected, but this should be carefully managed.
Why? Well, as I’ve said, the psychic censor is not mere cultural conditioning, nor is it any force external to you – it is an integral part of your mind that has been with you from birth. It’s done a great deal to keep you functional.
This is something you should be thankful for, but also willing to reprimand it for stepping out of line or interfering when it’s unnecessary (i.e., during magical operations).
One method you might try is creating a loose personification of your psychic censor. It can be treated like any other spirit or entity with which you’d dialogue and interact as part of your magical practice.
There’s been a trend of witches and magicians personifying aspects of themselves in order to evoke and manipulate them in ritual. If this can be done with an emotion or tendency (such as low self esteem or excessive pride), why not with the psychic censor itself?
It’s possible. You would create a personification of your psychic censor, imagining:
- What it would look like were it a person?
- What gender?
- What kind of clothes?
- Physical characteristics, etc, would be imagined as well.
- I personally had some luck assigning a name to the beastie.
The idea is to mold the formless nature of the psychic censor into a form you’ll be comfortable interacting with. I strongly suggest you avoid personifying it in a way that resembles someone you dislike, and try not to give it too many traits you despise – part of the point of this is to work cooperatively with it and bring it gently under control.
Following that personification process, you’d evoke it, via ritual or whatever method you usually use to contact entities. Approach it with the same respect you would anyone else, while also being firm and willing to exert a commanding influence.
Realize that while the censor is a part of you, it is beholden to the core of your identity. You’ve every right to command it, much more so than you would any other entity. While I tend to push a highly cooperative approach to work with entities, with the psychic censor I make an exception. I suggest slightly more force. Still, be polite, kind, and understanding. Just be unwilling to compromise on what matters to you. You could instruct your psychic censor to go silent at certain times, or discover through dialogue hints to bypassing it for future workings.
Once you realize this thing exists, it explains a lot. It really opens up a new realm of possibilities. Obviously, even the concept of the psychic censor is likely to be somewhat metaphorical an not to be taken literally, but it’s nevertheless a useful idea for understanding how magick works and the keys to effectively performing it. I hope you enjoyed this article and found it informative. I realize this is a difficult topic, but I do find it incredibly important to discuss. It does bother me that witches rarely discuss this kind of thing, leaving it mostly to the chaotes, when really, most of us can apply the concept for better results.
If you have any questions or anything in particular you’d like to see addressed on my blog, do feel free to send me an ask, or a message if you prefer it answered privately. If you enjoy my work, consider donating to my adventures, or purchasing a reading or other service from my shop. Stay safe, and have a wonderful day, wherever you might be. Happy Samhain to those who celebrate it!
Reblogging this here because I think the idea of a ‘psychic censor’ is one of the reasons so many people have a hard time accepting the idea of kin.