So this is going to be a somewhat meandering post on paradigm in the new Mage20 rules, the meaning of belief and why being a student of occult in the real world can make playing Mage kind of complicated actually. My situation is as follows:
A friend of mine who has a lot of background in Mage is going to be running a Mage campaign and I'm going to be one of his players. I am doing something I almost never do and building a character based in large part on myself. I generally avoid this because it can cause a lot of issues in game, but as a pagan and at least a basic student of several occult studies I really wanted to see how my real life paradigm/beliefs worked in Mage. It seemed like a dynamic I would never get to play out in any other games. So I'm trying to make my characters personality very distinct from myself, but his beliefs are roughly based on my own beliefs. This is where things get tricky.
I am not a high ritual magician. I just am not, and I never will be. I think most of that pomp and circumstance is just ridiculous. However, in terms of my belief systems which I more or less worked out for myself in high school Kabbalah/Qabalah really strike a serious chord with me. I like the abstracted and universal themes that lie within. So while I don't practice a very Golden Dawn/OTO style of practice/contemplation/meditation I do use almost all of the concepts in high magickal systems in my practice of finding pattern in and understanding the world.
Things aren't tricky yet. So most high magickal texts that I've found really focus on the sephirot, and Gematria, and the intersection of Qaballah with other occult practices and isn't that lovely. I only care in as much as those practices are wonderful ways to see how all is one. The process of seeing that all is one is the first major step to accepting that all is nothing. This is represented in the Tree of Life generally as Ain, Ain Soph, and Ain Soph Aur. In 777 these attributes which exist above and beyond the sephira are described as:
000 Ain: Zero Absolute
00: Ain Soph: Zero as Undefinable
0: Ain Soph Aur: Zero as basis of possible vibration
The first kabbalistic text I ever read was "The Essential Kabbalah, The Heart of Jewish Mysticism" by Daniel C. Matt. It was a completely non system book. It was written to describe the philosophies of Kabbalah from an entirely Jewish standpoint in prose. So no charts, no Gematria, and a hefty helping of narrative. It explained Ain Soph quite elegantly. I'm going to retell that story here from memory and as I go parallel it into the World of Darkness.
In the beginning there was absolute light everywhere. This was not the light we know which is a distinct thing that exists in discreet pieces and wavelengths. This was the divine light (quintessence in Mage terminology). It was everything reality could be, every physical, mental, spiritual, etc. form that could exist all at once everywhere at once. It was everything and nothing, and it filled all of existence. This was magnificent, but also uniform. There was no differentiation at all. Now this light was not just the work of the divine, it was the divine. At some point for whatever reason, perhaps a plan, perhaps boredom, perhaps a reason that discreet consciousness is incapable of comprehending the divine light retracted from the universe. It didn't cease to be, it just pulled away from existence and only darkness was left in it's wake. The divine light was the pure ones. In fact identifying the pure ones in the plural would run very counter to my Mage's paradigm because in the beginning there could be no division at all.
So the next step in creation was that the light re-entered existence. It didn't fill it completely this time though. It emanated into 10 spheres and filled the spheres like water fills cups. Taking on the form of the spheres and thereby differentiating itself from itself. These 10 spheres were the sephira of the tree of life. Now for those who have studied Kabbalah the spheres emanated in a particular order, duplicating themselves as they went, but for the purpose of understanding my views on Ain Soph and my struggles with defining a Mage paradigm based on those views that detail isn't important, so here we go.
The initial divine light is Ain Soph Aur. While it is everything, everything is nothing. As it is not distinct it cannot be a 1 or a 2 or a 3, nor can it be some irrational cousin of those numbers. It is everything, and because it is everything it is nothing, but the potential for all vibration and pattern exists within it. Until the discreet emanation happens though it is nothing.
The blackness is Ain Soph. It is undefinable. With the universe empty of the divine light, even for an indescribably short period of time (which time itself couldn't exist without the emanation) you cannot define what this blackness is, and ultimately it is the same as Ain Soph Aur for even that void is the result of the retraction of the undifferentiated emanation, and so couldn't have a context without the divine light of Ain Soph Aur.
Ain is . . . well absolute. This is where the fun really starts. I have never found a good explanation of Ain, and I don't think I would find any written explanation of Ain satisfying. I think the best we can do is define what the search of Ain is, not Ain itself. Ain is the nothingness that we seek to understand. It can only be understood by returning to it, for to be discreet is to be unable to understand nothingness. It is the reminder that no matter how far we've come in understanding nothingness because we have discreetly explained it to ourselves we don't understand and should therefore keep seeking. It is about accepting the completely infuriating fact that you have chosen a impossible goal, and it is worth working towards because it is impossible. The tension between our desire to attain it and it's unattainable place will likely do one of two things. One, we will snap under the pressure of it impossibility and stop striving, two we will be driven mad by our quest and go down the path of the unending drive for money, will, emotional bliss, purity of thought, etc. Down this path lie conquerors, CEO's, Union Leaders, Cardinals, Aleister Crowley . . . wait did I just list the same thing 4 times? Oh yes we were talking about nothingness and unity so I suppose I did. There is a third option though. It is the least likely option by far, but it is the one we're going for as will workers. This is the option of the Buddhist. It is not the goal, it is the path. It doesn't mean you don't have a goal, but you let go of your connection to the goal and merely walk the path the goal defines because it is the path. Now I haven't reached Nirvana, so I can't exactly explain the purpose of walking the path when the goal doesn't matter, but it's makes sense to me. It really always has, even when I didn't realize that it made sense.
So from these three concepts extrapolated from this story we see a shape of the path form, but we don't truly understand what the path or paradigm are yet. We must now look from the unity of nothingness and everything down to the emanation. Now while I described the emanation above I want to avoid using any of the terms above here. The purpose stops at the emanation itself before we see what the emanation is in terms of defining my character's paradigm. It doesn't matter what we see in the emanation, what we say Ain Soph Aur emanated into, what it's shape is, what it's resonance is, whether it is good or evil, active or passive, or any other attribute we can ascribe to it, or them. It merely matters that the emanation is. When we stop here we see the absence of all paradigm. We haven't defined anything that is actually definable other than perhaps the beginning, but of what we do not know. This ignorance is important, we must lean into it, we must embrace it and we must internalize it. We must let the absoluteness of it wash away any shame associated with the idea of ignorance, and then when it has almost destroyed what we are as individuals then we let it pass through us and allow the emanation to complete. Now the emanation will take shape. However, the shape doesn't matter. The fact that it has a shape is important (not really, but as we are finite it is important to us), but what the shape is has no meaning. The reason for this is we create the shape. All magickal systems are constructions of human language, mathematical language, perhaps even universal natural language for some more primordial practices that allow us to express the unexpressable. They allow our wills to reach into the unexpressable and shape it, forcing the vessel that contains the divine light to bear the shape we will. The structures and forms which allow our mind access to the universal tapestry is meaningless. It is that which resonates with us, and as we move closer to enlightenment we will move between foci and interfaces to Ain Soph more regularly as the realization of their meaninglessness moves from a thing we tell ourselves to a thing we actually understand and resonate with.
So here is my problem. I don't want my character to believe in paradigm. I mean there are some scraps of structure and pattern that loosely hold together his belief in Ain Soph, but he even believes that those are lies he tells himself to allow his human mind to wrap itself around some degraded abridged version of truth. He often forgets that the scraps of pattern are lies because he is human and imperfect, but I imagine him living in Chicago and regularly eating hot dogs on buns with ketchup on Friday because being profane against 4 great religions isn't enough, so ketchup it is. He does this thing because it's ridiculous, because the ridiculousness reminds him that all things sacred are a crystallization of belief and a distraction from Unity, and because we are not profane to be disrespectful, we are profane to remind ourselves there is nothing to disrespect other than a translation of something that cannot be translated. To top it all off, or to be the cherry on this sundae of paradimatic abstraction he was once head hunted by the Syndicate because of his PhD in Economics. The Economics thing ties into his paradigm in that he is a touch obsessed with emergent properties of systems that seem to be self creating. That gets into his views of emanation and the more concrete portions of the kabbalah that have to do with the Sephira which I have avoided here, it works in my head. If he has a goal he wants to get back to the great work big picture physical world type of workings that the Freemasons were pulling off during the founding of America. A lot of good came from those workings, and the founders clearly had deep ties to what would now be considered Hermetic paradigm, and the foundations of much of the Technocratic societal paradigms. He wants to rediscover the unity that has separated the tradition and technocratic paradigms. I'm likely to give it to him as a driving goal flaw, as clearly it's never going to happen. Still he dreams.
So now that I've written all of this it strikes me that maybe I need to just pick 9 completely different foci, from 9 completely different existing paradigms and assign those to his 9 spheres and call it a day. Maybe in game terms that's as close to a "system" for this paradigm as I'm going to get. I'll still post this on FB to see if anyone wants to comment on it. It's been burning a hole in my skull since I first started thinking about this guy.