On Beyond Broomsticks

I don’t think much of J.K. Rowling’s lumbering Harry Potter series. There, I’ve said it, and no doubt a tolerably large fraction of the readership of this blog will fling itself at their computer screens in a wholly reflexive attempt to wring my neck. Still, some dimensions of my reaction to that much-hyped series of books and movies are actually relevant to the project of this blog, for a curious reason: certain of the reasons behind that reaction relate to some of the chief difficulties faced by any attempt to make sense of magic and the other traditional occult sciences in our time.

Now of course part of my lack of enthusiasm for the boy wizard and his chums is purely a matter of personal literary taste. I read the first three books in the series, and found the first mildly enjoyable as a mashup of the classic English schoolboy novel and generic modern fantasy fiction. That enjoyment wasn’t enough to bear much repetition, and then the books began to sprawl; a chapter or so into the fourth book, I glanced at the sheer volume of paper still ahead, rolled my eyes, flipped the cover shut, and took the thing back to the library where I’d checked it out, and some other reader was doubtless overjoyed to get it a few days earlier than anticipated.

I didn’t, and don’t, begrudge that reader their enjoyment. My tastes in literature, as in other things, are as irreducibly personal as everyone else’s; there are things I heartily enjoy that are frankly trash, and things that are unquestionably great literature that I simply don’t like and haven’t opened since my college days. That said, the things that made me roll my eyes and lose interest in the heroics of young Harry and the iniquities of Lord Moldywarp, or whatever the fellow’s name was, weren’t limited to matters of literary taste. There were two other factors, and neither one of them suffers from any shortage of contemporary relevance.

The first was the way that Rowling constantly relied on shopworn clichés from existing fantasy fiction to fill out the details of her story. Sometimes the borrowings are very specific, to the extent that you know the literature at all well, you can often tell exactly which scene from which novel she was thinking of when she sat down at her keyboard—I’m recalling here in particular a bit from the first novel that was lifted nearly verbatim from one of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books. Far more common and far more tedious were the things that came, not from a single novel, but from the vast hordes of derivative fantasy novels that gather in serried ranks on bookstore shelves these days; and of course the biggest and most boring of these, the one that’s generated more dull fantasy fiction than any other single factor, is that weary, dreary, all too unavoidable figure, the generic Dark Lord.

Mind you, I have nothing whatsoever against villains in fantasy fiction. A good solid villain—a suave and sneering cad full of simmering rage, a narrow-eyed megalomaniac whose neuroses have morphed into raw thirst for power, an authority figure who’s secretly addicted to the rush he gets from hurting people, or what have you—can make an otherwise mediocre story memorable; what’s more, such people exist, and many of us have had to deal personally with one or more of the types just named, so it’s entirely reasonable to find them in the pages of fiction as well. Generic Dark Lords are another matter. They resemble no actual person, living or dead; they’re evilly evil—in fact, they’re the evilest evil that ever eviled—out of sheer evil evilness, full stop, end of sentence. They have no lives or purposes of their own, other than to act out in two dimensions the author’s favorite stereotypes about what really awful people are like, and of course to give the hero (or, very occasionally, the heroine) a flat black background against which to strike a series of heroic poses.

It may be objected that Dark Lords thus belong to the same category as hippogriffs, centaurs, and moderate Syrian rebels: that is, imaginary beings who are appropriate fodder for fantasy fiction (and White House press conferences, which arguably qualify.) This I freely grant, but I’d suggest that most readers would lose interest in fantasy fiction if half the novels published in the genre each year had a plot centering around a hippogriff, and I’d also point out that in fact a good many people havelost interest in White House press conferences because moderate Syrian rebels, economic recoveries, and certain other imaginary critters appear in them rather too predictably.

When J.R.R. Tolkien deployed the Dark Lord trope in The Lord of the Rings, it was a carefully chosen element of the narrative strategy by which he highlighted the heroism of his apparently unheroic hobbits. That worked well enough that no doubt some further exploration of the idea in other fantasy novels was merited. The difficulty, though, is that in Tolkien’s wake, Dark Lords crudely cloned from his example of the species started turning up under every damp rock, and once most readers forgot that there had been fantasy fiction before Tolkien—a process that was substantially complete by the 1980s—you could pretty much grab a fantasy novel at random off a bookstore or library shelf with your eyes shut and, when you opened them, odds were that a Dark Lord would be cackling at you from the pages, going through the self-same motions as all the other Dark Lords you didn’t happen to pick.

Fantasy used to be more imaginative than that. Even when the Dark Lord trope got used, back before Tolkien’s trilogy swept all before it, it was very often more nuanced, not to mention more entertaining. I’m thinking here particularly of a Clark Ashton Smith story, “The Dark Eidolon,” one of the tales he set in the last continent of a dying Earth. You’ve got a protagonist obsessed with the wrongs done to him in his childhood—and they were real and serious wrongs—who has devoted his life to achieving the magical power to get even by means of mass murder. As he gets everything ready for the big day, he summons the archfiend Thasaidon, Lord of Evil, to help him. The Lord of Evil, though, isn’t interested; he points out that the monarch and city the man wants to annihilate are cruel, lustful, avaricious—in a nutshell, Thasaidon’s kind of people—and suggests to the protagonist that, when it comes right down to it, living evilly is the best revenge. The protagonist isn’t willing to change his plans, and the story rolls ahead toward its ghastly conclusion…but can you imagine any of the current crop of cardboard-cutout Dark Lords displaying Thasaidon’s panache?

There’s a good deal to be learned from the pervasive popularity of generic Dark Lords in contemporary pop fiction, but most of it belongs to the other blog rather than this one:  it has to do with politics rather than magic, and more specifically with the way that the habit Carl Jung called “projecting the shadow” has morphed into a convenient and highly overused tool for avoiding uncomfortable issues.  Once the other blog starts up again next month, in fact, I plan on pursuing that discussion in earnest—among other things, by talking about the bevy of industrious Democratic tailors who are currently measuring and fitting out Donald Trump with his own Dark Lord outfit, all duded up with the latest fashionable touches in evilly evil evilness.  Still, that’s a discussion for another place and time.

The occult community has by and large been free of that particular obsession. Now and again you get people in that community who excuse their own dubious behavior on the grounds that they’re fighting some evilly evil evilness or other, and now and again you get the even drearier spectacle of somebody who’s decided to act out the role of evilest evil that ever eviled—their idea of “being evil,” of course, typically works out to not bathing often enough, posting anonymous schoolboy insults on other people’s websites, and fantasizing about having mildly kinky sex someday, if they ever manage to get another person to join them in that activity. Still, both those habits are minority tastes.

No, it’s the second thing (other than issues relating to personal literary taste) I found annoying in the Harry Potter books that bears most directly on the project of this blog. That second issue was pointed up, in a certain inadvertent sense, in the comments to last month’s post by a reader who’d gone back through some of the earlier conversations here, noted my lack of enthusiasm for the books, and took it on herself to chastise me for not being suitably deferential to the kid wizard and his pals.  After all, she claimed, Rowling’s novels had introduced many young people to magic, and wasn’t that a good thing?

Well, no, it wasn’t, because Rowling’s novels did nothing of the kind. There may be many things in the Harry Potter stories, but magic, in the strict sense of the word, does not appear in them at all. That’s something they share with a great deal of fantasy fiction, including most of the books that claim to be about the exploits of wizards, sorcerers, and mages of all kinds, because Harry Potter magic has no more to do with magic than Christian Science has to do with science.

From the perspective of the practicing occultist, remember, magic is not whatever you want it to be. It’s a specific, long-established, and very thoroughly developed body of traditional lore and practice with equally specific purposes and results. If you claim that you’re writing about agriculture, it won’t pass muster to portray people swinging oars at the sky to knock halibut down from the clouds, and if you say you’re writing about physics, it won’t do to show researchers weighing the grin of the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland on a scale made of chicken-flavored ice cream in order to decide whether Rhett loves Scarlett or vice versa. For exactly the same reason, if your story portrays people babbling scraps of fake Latin to make broomsticks fly, you’re not writing about magic, no matter how much of the verbiage and hardware of magic you use as window dressing for your tale.

Yes, I know that the word “magic” also has its figurative sense, referring to a quality of wonder and amazement, the sort of thing most people like to imagine they would feel if they encountered, say, a real wizard practicing real magic. (They wouldn’t actually feel that—most people in the modern world who encounter anything that even dimly suggests real magic freak out and run like rabbits—but that’s a theme for a different post.)  This usage is comparable to the figurative sense of the word “chemistry” we use when we talk about two people having great chemistry together. Most of us, I hope, are aware that this latter kind of chemistry is not usually something that involves test tubes and Bunsen burners, and I also hope that nobody thinks that experiencing the figurative kind of chemistry is any kind of useful introduction to the stuff chemists do in laboratories with test tubes and Bunsen burners.

Magic, in the nonfigurative sense of the word, is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will. That’s the definition proposed by Dion Fortune, one of the twentieth century’s most widely studied operative mages and magical theorists; it could usefully be expanded in several ways, but we’ll stick with it for now. The stuff that appears in Harry Potter and other works of fantasy fiction under the label of “magic” isn’t presented as a means of causing changes in consciousness. It’s presented as a means of causing changes in matter and energy.  This is what technology does, not what magic does—but the fake magic of Potteresque fantasy fiction does that without any of the limitations, challenges, or downsides that actual technologies have.

Rowling’s novels aren’t the worst offenders here by any means. Most fantasy fiction—we’ll talk about the exceptions in a bit—has magic doing things that magic simply doesn’t do and can’t be made to do, and these pretty predictably amount to things that technology either does or could possibly do. (The Clark Ashton Smith story mentioned above, for example, does this every bit as relentlessly as any Harry Potter novel; annihilating an entire kingdom in a matter of a few hours, it bears noting, is a task that requires warheads rather than warlocks.) As noted, though, while fantasy magic supposedly does what technology does, it doesn’t have to cover any of the costs or put up with any of the limitations. When people in Rowling’s “wizarding world” want to make a broom fly, they utter a spell, and up it goes. Energy source? They don’t need no steenking energy source. No fuel is required, no pollution produced; you tell it to do something, invoking the magic words—Crismus Bonus, no doubt, or something not too dissimilar—and lo and behold, it’s done.

That is to say, the “magic” of this kind of fantasy fiction functions the way that modern people like to pretend technology works, rather than the way technology actually works.

Now of course filling the collective imagination of our time with images that reinforce some of the worst habits of contemporary thought has plenty of downsides, but here again, most of these relate to the topics covered in the other blog. What I want to point out here is that Potteresque magic tends to induce in its readers two mistaken and highly counterproductive ideas about actual magic. The first, as already noted, is that magic is supposed to do the same kinds of things that technology does, such as making things fly, rather than doing the things it actually does, such as changing consciousness.

The second mistaken idea? The notion that magic is easy.

There’s a wry joke among the occultists I know that tends to pop up when someone says that this or that happened “like magic.” The usual response to that phrase is something like, “Oh, you mean that it took years of dedicated study and practice, followed by a lengthy period of difficult preparations and the performance of an exacting and exhausting ritual with unbroken concentration, followed in turn by a waiting period of indeterminate length, until finally all the circumstances line up and the purpose of the working is accomplished? Got it.”

That’s the way magic actually works. It’s not easy. By and large, in fact, if you can accomplish what you want to accomplish by nonmagical means, that’s usually a better bet. Most operative mages I’ve met got into magic for the sake of the magic, not because they wanted to get any of the usual worldly things that figures in fantasy stories get via magic—and those operative mages I know who have achieved their goals in the world, or are in the process of doing so, have learned to back up their magical workings with intelligent planning and plain hard work.

The ironic thing, at least to me, is that you can do real magic in fantasy fiction just as easily as you can do fake magic, and get a rousing story out of it. I can say this with confidence because it’s been done. Algernon Blackwood did it with gusto in his John Silence stories and some of his other tales, for example, and the same Dion Fortune whose definition of magic was cited above did it effectively in the short story collection The Secrets of Dr. Taverner and several novels, of which The Goat-Foot God is to my mind the best. For that matter, a story of the Harry Potter sort could be written that had real magic in place of the broomsticks et al., pitted Harry and his friends against the real challenges of learning and working magic instead of making them run a gauntlet sponsored by the Fantasy Gimmick of the Week Club, and made at least as good a story out of it—if not a better one.

With this in mind, I’d like to announce—well, not quite a contest, because this blog has a much smaller readership than the other one, and I have no idea if enough people are interested in attempting what I have in mind and making it work. Let’s call it a challenge instead. I’d like to encourage readers of this blog who like to write fiction to try their hands at fantasy fiction that uses real magic. The publisher of the four (so far) After Oil anthologies, Founders House, has told me that if I get enough stories of the sort just described to make up a decent-sized book, he’ll publish it. This is a paying gig, folks; if a book comes out of this, writers whose stories go into the anthology will receive a portion of the royalties on every copy sold. If you fancy a career as a writer, that’s something you can put in your next query letter that will make editors sit up and take notice.

Those of you who’ve followed the Space Bats contests on the other blog already know the mechanics of this sort of project. For those that haven’t, what you have to do is write your story and post it to the internet—if you don’t have a blog, you can get one for free from Blogspot or WordPress. Post a link to it in the comments section of this blog, preferably in the comments to whatever the latest post is, so everyone sees it. Stories are due by the last day of September, 2016, so you have plenty of time to work on it.

Here are the rules I have in mind:

– I’m interested in short stories between 2500 and 8500 words in length, and there’s also room for a couple of novellas between 10,000 and 16,000 words in length.

– Stories submitted should be entirely the work of their author or authors, and should not borrow characters or setting from someone else’s work—i.e., no fanfic, please.

– They should be in English, with correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

– The setting may be the world we know, past, present, or future, or an invented world of the author’s own creation.

– The laws of nature as known and understood here and now should be assumed to apply. Strange creatures such as unicorns, mantichores, etc., are fine, and so are freshly invented beasties, but make them biologically possible. If you want to have improbable hybrids of the centaur or mermaid variety, some hint at an explanation in the backstory would be helpful. (Genetic engineering by some ancient and long-vanished civilization, for example, will do.)

– There should be no Dark Lords—that is, no antagonists who are evilly evil for evil’s sake, and whose defeat by the protagonist is the sole plot engine of the story. That’s been done to death, and it’s boring. Villains are fine, but give them plausible motivations—and by “plausible” I mean that you can readily imagine yourself doing the same things for the same reasons if you were in their place.

– No space travel. That’s been done to death, too, and it’s just as boring.

– Magic should play a significant part in the story, but it should be realistic magic. Stories set in our world, unless they’re set tolerably far in the past or the future, should probably use some form of magic that actually exists, or that can reasonably be extrapolated from existing magical systems. Stories set in the distant past, the far future, or in wholly invented worlds can come up with novel magical systems—but those systems should work the way that actual magic does, and accomplish the kinds of things that actual magic can do.

Those of my readers who are operative mages will have no trouble with that last rule—they know what they can accomplish with magic and, more importantly, what they can’t. Those of you who don’t have that advantage will have to do some reading. There are plenty of good basic introductory books on magic out there, and of course we’ve covered a lot of the basics right here on this blog; I’m also willing to offer advice in the comments pages of this blog when asked.

You’ll notice that I haven’t specified the kind of story to write, and that’s quite deliberate. Fantasy fiction has also suffered lately from an unfortunate narrowing of options in this department. Spooky fantasy? Great. Adventure fantasy? Go for it. Romantic fantasy? Ditto. A murder mystery in which the weapon is a spell meant to drive the victim to suicide—yes, there are workings for that purpose; no reputable operative mage will stoop to such things, but not all operative mages are reputable—or some other nastily lethal bit of change in consciousness in accordance with will? Neat. Something else entirely? I’ll look forward to it.

Magical fantasy, but with real magic. See what you can do.

On the subject of good basic introductory books on magic, I was delighted to learn a little while back that a book I studied carefully in my misspent youth has finally found its way back into print. Magic: An Occult Primer by David Conway provides a good basic overview of magical theory and then two “master rituals”—one Cabalistic, the other Egyptian—that can be adapted to any of a very wide range of magical purposes. It’s a solid introduction to magic as an operative art, worth attention from beginners as well as experienced mages looking to broaden their horizons a bit. I’m also pleased to say that the publisher, Aeon Books, is offering free shipping worldwide and a 15% discount for readers of this blog; the code to use in the checkout process is MAGIC2016.


  1. Oh, JK did the whole backstory in the later books on where evil comes from, seems it was a bunch of quasi fascist purity of the race stuff and sumthin sumthin about immortality. Like the rest of the series, not really an original thought in the mix. I stuck with it to the end in part because of the development of the character line of the secondary baddy (Snape) and his ultimate redemption and revelation as the most good of all the good guys who was deeply tormented and deeply under cover. Hey, I like Alan Rickman, as good guy, bad guy, or redeemed antihero, so I wanted to see where she was going with the character he was playing. Oh if ANYONE complains about spoilers at this late date.. really??

    As for the magic in the series, yeah, right!

  2. Thank you so much for this critique, JMG!

    I did like the Harry Potter books well enough to finish the whole long series. Since I was teaching courses on the history of magic at my own university, I enjoyed the fantasy of a school devoted wholly to the occult and esoteric disciplines, complete with an entire faculty of advanced specialist-colleagues. And who would not enjoy wandering down Diagon Alley? It was things lke that that kept me going through the whole series. And Rowling had a pretty good idea of how such a faculty would conduct its own affairs, when they were out of the sight of the students. (Dolores Umbridges really do exist, and in quantity. Occasionally, too, one encounters far worse creatures than she in the academic world.)

    However, J. K. Rowling's treatment of magic and magical lore set my scholar's teeth on edge from the start of the first volume to the end of the last. I wavered — and still waver — between two conflicting explanations for this. One is that she knew hardly anything about magic, and it showed. The other is she had read more than a few popular books on magic, enough to make herself afraid that some poor unsuspecting reader would actually try to do the things she was describing and get results, so she deliberately garbled everything that she found in her sources. Hence, too, the hideous fake Lstin. I did note, early on, that the given names of Dumbledore and Hagrid — Albus anf Rubeus — are also the names of a pair of opposing geomantic figures. I kept hoping that Rowling would make something out of that, but she never did.

  3. Dear John Michael Greer:

    I really enjoyed this month’s post, this is exactly why I don’t like the majority of fantasy films which rely on “magic” as an energy-matter warping pseudo-technology with a seemingly limitless power source. So I look forward to the results of your writing contest, I’m even tempted to participate. You mentioned the quality of fantasy fiction before Tolkien’s work, it reminded me of an anthology I haven’t read since high school called Tales Before Tolkien: The Roots of Modern Fantasy; I remember enjoying it for the reasons you describe, and it has a seemingly “all-star” roster of authors (i.e. George MacDonald, Arthur Machen, L. Frank Baum, William Morris, etc.) I definitely need to reread it.

    I can’t remember if I thanked you for your reading recommendation in last month’s comment section, if not thank you very much.

    Happy Alban Eilir, and Holy Week.
    May the Boundless Mystery bless and protect you and your loved ones.

    “Christopher Kildare”

  4. Hi JMG,

    I've commented to you before that I just went with my gut feeling with the Harry Potter books and film and what it was telling me wasn't good, so I've never read or watched the films either. Sir Moldilocks is actually not a bad name for a villain! Hehe! ;-)!

    A Dark Lord is an abstraction and it is very hard to empathise with the yearnings of an abstraction, well at least I've always found that to be the case.

    It was sort of like when I was a very young adult and a group of us ordered the latest David Eddings book from the only fantasy book store in the city (there was no online ordering in those days, as you well know) and then we waited for it to arrive (well, the book had to be picked up and paid for at the shop in the city). I don't believe any of my friends ever considered that the protagonist in the story was in serious danger from the Mad God either and the climactic ending to the long story was really over all too quickly. I mean honestly, if some young bloke decides to go up against a God, that has also become rather mad – whatever that means in that spehere (surely it isn't good?) – then the chances of surviving that encounter are really not good, but alas that is rarely how the story works. Imagine, if the characters went through all that hardship only to be squashed at the end of the story! Awesome!

    I don't believe that Jack Vance – yes, I'm an unrepentant fan – ever fell for the whole Dark Lord meme. Most of his villains were very much in the real world of flesh and blood and had their foibles. But then his writing petered out in the early 90's.

    Yes, the whole projecting the shadow thing is very weird – we even hear about it down here and the stories bore me as all they are doing is putting him in the big chair. If I had to give them one bit of advice: Less is more; oh and Learn when to shut the suitcase. Actually that's two bits of advice in relation to that particluar problem, but then the powers that be are very unlikely to read either, so perhaps two is the correct number? :-)! Sorry, I do keep myself amused.

    Hmmm, there does seem little reason to go “caveman” and not bathe regularly, but those pick up artists are seriously instructing their students to do exactly that along the road to kinky sex. Seriously, I personally reckon maintaining good posture and clean clothes is probably a better bet, but then that entire group has unsavoury tastes, questionable morals and dubious goals.

    Well, if people seriously took the time to understand what magic actually is instead of piling on that word all their hopes, desires and ambitions then perhaps they may actually understand when magic is being used against them. As it is! But then who would seriously want to live consciously? I do, but it comes with benefits as well as costs.

    Thanks for the book recommendation.

    Happy solstice to you too!



  5. I have similar feelings about the enjoyment factor of Harry Potter: the first was well worth the read, but I couldn't make it through the third book. Even with the movies, which require much less time and effort invested, I really didn't enjoy anything past Goblet of Fire (that, at least, was visually quite nice, which I weight heavily in a visual medium), and I and the group I was with all stopped watching in the middle of the next-to-last movie because we were all so bored.

    I grew up on heroic fantasy and D&D, and I'm pretty tired of how overpowered magic has gotten, as well. These days it seems that wizards barely out of their apprenticeships can do stuff that would have required countless virgin sacrifices for the most powerful of Conan's magic-wielding foes.

    The magic-is-really-just-technology idea has actually become quite blatant and even embraced in fantasy roleplaying games: the world of Eberron has magic-powered trains, for goodness' sake, and editions of D&D since 3rd make magic items so common and easy to create or come by it's just ludicrous.

    I'm really happy about the latest challenge. Every time I've tried to come up with something for the After Oil competitions, my meanderings tended to veer into this territory: the story I was working on for After Oil 4 had a lengthy scene with a Tarot(-ish) reading. (I abandoned the story when I realized it was still pretty heavily steeped in progressivist sentiments and values. I could probably do it better now.)

    I'm assuming that while impossible biological creatures are ruled out, anything out of Monsters is fair game? So I could have people living side-by-side with the Good Folk, or a magician consorting with a demon with the body of an elephant, feet made of rubber chickens, and the hindquarters of a cat where its head should be?

    Also, I predict that the temptation will undoubtedly be to make magic easier and more powerful than it is in real life, despite your complaints about Harry Potter. Could you give some hints on where the line between a little exaggeration for dramatic purposes and plain too far is? When does mental contact turn into a surrogate for a cell phone system? When does magic to encourage the body's natural healing turn into a faster, no-side-effects surrogate for modern medicine?

  6. Bill, I picked up Lord Moldywarp's backstory by going to his page on Wikipedia, which is generally pretty good on pop culture though weak and/or hamhandedly biased in many other areas. It didn't convince me; it read, to be frank, like a nice liberal Englishwoman's notion of how those really awful people happen that we don't like to think about. As for Snape and the books/films generally, though, hey, whatever floats your hippogriff!

    Robert, I wondered about those two names, too, but it wasn't enough to keep me reading. For my part, I'd be delighted if someone were to do a book about a magical university if there was actual magic involved.

    Christopher, that sounds like a very good anthology! I'll have to look for it. I hope it has at least one story by Lord Dunsany.

    Cherokee, “Sir Moldilocks” is a keeper — many thanks. 😉 I never read Eddings' second series, just the firt one, which was very mildly fun but not enough to keep me reading; I was at college at the time, living in a rental house with a bunch of other students, and we used to parody the names of the characters, places, etc. (We retitled the whole epic “The Vulgariad,” which will tell you something about our collective sense of humor.)

    James, a little exaggeration for dramatic purposes is already on the wrong side of the line. Don't include any magic unless either you've done it yourself, or you've read books or checked with a practitioner and made sure that it's within the bounds of realism. (I suppose this whole project could be called “magic realism,” except that those Latin American authors got to the name first!) I mean that quite seriously. If you were writing a detective story, you wouldn't apply a little exaggeration for dramatic purposes to the effects of a handgun or the detection of fingerprints, and the same rule goes here.

    To get specific, have you ever had mental contact with another person? In my experience, when it happens — and it's unpredictable, except under certain highly personal circumstances — what comes through almost always amounts to emotional states rather than words. (In every single case in which I've heard words that the other person didn't speak aloud, they were heartily felt profanities.) Similarly, have you ever received a magical or spiritual healing? if it's done well, you feel better, your tensions relax, and you get well faster than you otherwise would, but that's it — worth having, but not a cureall. As for monsters out of the book of the same name, sure, but don't stretch that into making them behave like their namesakes in cheap fantasy…and it's going to have to be a really, really good story if you include a vampire. Vampires these days, even if they don't twinkle, have been done to undeath and are arguably even more boring than Dark Lords, if such a thing were possible.

  7. Thanks for the recommendation and the nice discount on the book, JMG!

    Regarding the Harry Potter series, I will confess to enjoying the books and movies quite a bit while never mistaking them for great literature or a magical primer. Like Bill Pulliam, much of my enjoyment of the movies centered around admiration for Alan Rickman and his nuanced portrayal of Snape. I'd have happily watched Alan Rickman dramatize my local telephone book.

  8. Hi JMG,

    I, like you, was entertained (as a bookish 13-year-old) by Rowling's first three entries into the series, but lost interest somewhere amidst the copious pages of that behemoth of a fourth book.

    Now I wonder about something. And, before I wonder aloud, be gentle: I do not have experience as an operative mage, and I freely admit my ignorance. But tell me this: if magic is the art and science of causing changes in consciousness, how can we know the limits of consciousness? Surely, modern experiments into quantum physics (I'm particularly thinking of the double-slit experiment here) prove that one's consciousness is not limited to the flesh-and-blood vessel to which we typically associate it. Even if it's only on the level of quantum photons, ours minds do appear to cause changes in the actual physical structure of the universe outside our bodies. The photon is an actual physical “object” with quantifiable mass, and our minds cause it to appear in certain places by the simple act of observation.

    Might magic be thought of as a way to amplify this effect–which something that we are all already doing?

  9. Dear John,
    I never got around to reading Rowling, and asides from The Hobbit, Tolkien always kinda bored me, but I am very much looking forward to reading Occult Primer which I have just ordered (thank you very much for the recommendation!). Of all your fiction contests (from that other blog admittedly) this is the one which has most interested me. Perhaps I will manage something, but probably not on time as I will need quite a bit for what I have in mind.

  10. You think Harry Potter is bad? Try Whateley Academy. In the Miskatonic valley, just down the road from a town named Dunwich. Imagine Harry Potter with a gaggle of authors, none of whom seem to have a good grasp on the shared setting. I'm afraid it's sort of a guilty pleasure that I've been trying to extricate myself from for a while. The only good thing is that one of the later authors does seem to be a real-life chaos magician, but she doesn't seem to have much influence.

    And no, I haven't read the Harry Potter books. I've been trying to remember the old joke that goes “What do you get when you cross X with Y? A harry potter.”

  11. While definitely useful in highlighting some of our culture’s wayward assumptions about what magic is, and what it does, this critique of fantasy fiction also raises another question. The myths, legends, and folklore that provide the body of lore for many occult traditions, are themselves filled with impossible happenings, unusual images, and instances of magic doing things real magic doesn’t do. Whether it’s the parting of the Red Sea, Gwydion’s army of illusory horses, the Green Knight’s severed head, or Jack’s beanstock, there’s a certain element of fantastic within the world’s myth and folklore that is there not to offer lessons about the real world, or even the potentials of magic, technology, or natural law, but rather to offer lessons in expanding the imagination and opening the mind by being meth with “images of things that are not only “not actually present,” but which are indeed not to be found in our primary world at all” to borrow from Tolkien, and that same intent of “arresting strangeness” is one of the primary intents in modern fantasy literature, and many people especially in the times we live in turn to those sorts of stories like these because of issues you’ve addressed in the other blog. To quote Tolkien one more time, “the maddest castle that ever came out of a giant's bag in a wild Gaelic story is not only much less ugly than a robot-factory, it is also (to use a very modern phrase) “in a very real sense” a great deal more real.”

    And of course, for the magically trained mind, the dreamlike fantastic images woven into traditional myths and lore (and sometimes to a much lesser degree) modern fairy tales and fantasy fiction as well can include images that themselves reach past the rational mind and can be used to unpack deeper teachings. The fantastic imagery of Taliesin’s birth and transformation ceases to be a mere story and instead becomes a map that can be journeyed through again and again, every time unlocking more and more symbols and teachings that aid the initiate in reaching their own potential. I’ve seen some people even do some interesting work on the Harry Potter series, working through it from an alchemical perspective, (I recall one of Phillip Carr-Gomm’s books takes a look at the Harry Potter series from a Rosicrucian perspective, analyzing the names, imagery, and myth-arc in comparison with the Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz, and I’ve seen a lot of occultists and professional scholars alike take the same approach.

    So, I guess the next question is, if the fantastic can sometimes have the impact of confusing reality for people (biblical literalists who take their own mythic literature to be science books rather than assortments of myth, saga, and wisdom literature, or magical novices who got the wrong ideas from pop culture and waste their time trying to figure out how to levitate objects), what about the other side, in which the fantastic can expand the mind and offer a gateway to the Otherworld where deeper truths can be found? Where does that line between usefulness and harmfulness sit?

  12. This is a good spur to finish up my work on the Star's Reach contest! Right now the editing it still needs is immense, a few key plot points didn't come to me until quite recently, and trying to get the whole to congeal is proving quite tricky.

    Very interesting contest you propose here, not sure if it is for me, as I am not much of a magic user, but your post did trigger some thoughts I thought worth sharing. Most winters I make a point to read my favorite novel, which I think is in a sister genera to what you propose here. Thus Spoke Zarathustra. At the moment I am in the fourth section, and its already spring! When I first read it I took it as a collection of speeches, but over the years I have come to view it more and more as a novel. Granted one where only a single character is all that ever gets flesh on the bones. But I was thinking of Zarathustra as a bit of a wizard, for the entire book is about the will and the changes in consciousness. Some of it is bazaar, but the guy does do some spells, the honey sacrafice for instance. And turns down the hunchbacks request for him to do a truly super natural magic. Also I consider how Zarathustra is in some ways a fun house mirror of the evily evilishness. He plays at being evil, and you could easy enough imagine the 'good people' of his world thinking of him as some strange dark lord hermit. Case it point Zarathustra isn't so much evil as… vain maybe, an odd duck at least, some times wise with the great sages, sometimes as mature as a disgruntled teenager.

    I have long been thinking, and note taking, of writing a parody sequel set as far in the future of Zarathustra's world as we live in Nietzsche's future. If not for the fanfic limit I think it might have been a contender, do you think that sufficiently 'lamp shaded' something of this kind could have a place in the contest. Don't worry, it would be much less a collection of speeches, the main character I imagine is a wizard of few words.

  13. I was never much of a “science fiction” fan, but, I found Edgar Allen Poe's or Kafka's “evil” characters to be so much more in line with a plausible reality than a “Lord Moldywarp”. Give me a Faustian protagonist who, driven mad by an unfortunate set of circumstances, makes a series of bad decisions and then acts on them in a most unfortunate way. If I could see a person I can relate to falling into the trap, then it becomes much more interesting.

    The concept of “the evilest evil that ever eviled—out of sheer evil evilness” puts me to mind of George Bush's “Axis of Evil”. It, is just a muddied, hate-filled moniker, cast at whomever America's enemy du jour happens to be. No explanation. They are just “Evil”. Always have been. Always will be. Don't question it.

    I'll give your recommended book by David Conway a read. I am very new to this and have only just begun to scratch the surface (with your help) of the Esoteric/Hermetic philosophies and systems available. I've read Israel Regardie's “Tree of Life”, but it was very much over my head. I recently started a very slow and deliberate read of Dion Fortune's “Mystical Qabalah” and am having a much better go of it. I'll give Regardie's “Tree of Life” another shot in the not too distant future. I wonder where the concept of “evil” even plays out in such systems of thought, if at all?

  14. @JMG: Catch somebody who has sung in chorus for several years running in a moment of pure joy and exultation, and you may get both words and music. For me, “music by Handel, lyrics by Isaiah,” melody carried by the altos. For others? Possibly Beethoven, with lyrics from their church's hymnal. For others, a triumphant Easter hymn. And believe me, the emotional load there, for the musical, is just as strong.

    Re: Vampires – if they aren't a metaphor for the financial class, I've never seen one. But “attention vampires” – there's one in every club, group, or meeting. [And they make excellent villains – or murder victims – for the writers among us.]

  15. Realism– magic or psychological– is not Rowling's strong suit. I think to enjoy Harry Potter you have to see it as two-thirds a fairy tale and one-third a popularised retelling of something like the Hypnerotomachia. In that sense there's a kind of mythic realism to it that gives me some satisfaction, with Jung and von Franz at my elbow, as if each of the characters were a constituent of one dreaming psyche rather than an interesting person in themselves. The collective psyche in question is no Merlin, of course. Still, a question of taste.

    There's a promising moment in the first installment, sadly never pursued, in which one of the centaurs keeps interrupting the action to talk about Mars, as if to say “Sure there's all this urgent cutesiness going on, but for Hermes' sake *look up there.*”

    As for the villain, I read his name as Flight-from-Death, consider his eschatological schemes and technological/mechanical methods, and see at least a sketch of mythic id that a sensible Christian or Druid could approve of. He might have been called Lord Modern-Man-Getting-It-Wrong. Which, if you think about it, reflects critically on all the faults you've rightly identified in the world of the “good” characters. Does the series argue, “If you think of magic like *this*, you get *that*”?

  16. I am guessing quasi-non-fiction pieces based on actual witnessed or lived events would be within the rules for your writing challenge, yes? So long as whatever license is taken with the original sequence of events does not stray beyond the boundaries you lay out?

  17. Maria, you're most welcome. As for Harry Potter, Alan Rickman, et al., here again, I enjoy plenty of things I'd be hard pressed to defend on any reasonable basis at all, so I'm not going to quibble. 😉

    Chris, that's a reasonable question. We can't know the limits of consciousness precisely. What we can know, on the basis of experience, is that if you try to do some things using magic, you get good results; if you try to do other things using magic, you get unreliable or equivocal results; and if you try to do yet another category of things using magic, you get no results at all. That's why I'm proposing actual magical tradition as a touchstone here.

    Mark, you're welcome and thank you!

    John, oh, we could get into a long discussion of bad fantasy sometime! At the moment, though, I'm not reading any modern Lovecraft-related fiction, since I have my own series of novels in process (the first one is in press, the second in the publisher's hands, and the third is waiting for me to figure out a few plot twists and get the sudden manifestation of a Great Old One right).

    Eric, good heavens, I'm not suggesting that the sort of fantasy I've outlined here ought to be the only kind in print! Of course there's also a place for the pure sense-of-wonder stuff. I do wish that the label “magic” wouldn't get slapped onto the mechanics of wonder tales so often, but that's probably a lost cause; as it is, I'll be happy if this project gets more stories out there that operative mages and people interested in occultism more generally can read and enjoy, without wincing when the author drags in yet another round of bogus magic.

    Ray, that has got to be one of the most intriguing proposals for fiction I think I've ever heard. Please write it. As you probably know, I'm also something of a Nietzsche fan, and the thought of a wry revisioning of Zarathustra is delightful to contemplate.

    Renovator, The Tree of Life is a great book but the sheer opacity of the writing style makes it hard — I find myself wondering, when I read it, whether Israel Regardie and H.P. Lovecraft learned to use adjectives from the same writing teacher or something. 😉 Conway's book is a lot more readable. As for evil, that probably is going to have to be a post of its own, because the concept does exist but it's much more complex and nuanced than anything Lord Moldywarp would recognize.

    Patricia, interesting. I haven't had that experience, but it makes sense.

    Stuart, that moment is part of the scene that Rowling basically lifted intact from The Last Battle — not surprising that she didn't follow it up, since she wasn't coming from Lewis' very solid grasp of Christian Neoplatonist cosmology. More broadly, if you find the Potter saga useful and enjoyable, by all means.

    Bill, Dion Fortune did that with some of her Doctor Taverner stories, with very good results, so I'd say go for it!

  18. Re: Kafka's villains – C.S. Lewis' comments on THE SCREWTAPE LETTERS, on why he characterized his demons as he did, had the last word on that! “I like bats better than I like bureaucrats.”

    Me, too.

  19. I enjoy the Harry Potter series, but it definitely falls in the category of guilty pleasure; your critique is pretty much spot on. There are (very) occasional flashes of literary brilliance in the series, but not enough to make it worth wading through if you just don't like the brain candy aspect of it.

    There is one instance of what I take to be actual magic; ironically, when Harry doesn't use magic as defined by the world of Hogwart's. Harry tricks Ron into thinking he gave Ron a good luck potion, and Ron overcomes his own performance anxiety because his mental state has shifted. There are also some interesting philosophical speculations in the last three books, but none are very extensive or really explored at all.

    Finally, Severus Snape turns out to be one of the most compelling characters I have ever encountered in literature, but that has nothing to do with the setting or the faux-magic. And we don't really understand him until the end of Book 7. He is the true hero of the tale, not Harry.

  20. (Deborah Bender)

    I dislike it when authors or screenwriters use magical tropes as plot devices or set dressing, without thinking them through for logical consistency. I dislike it just as much when science fiction tropes are used this way. When the tropes are derived from real science fiction, the result is space opera or horror. I don't know what you call fiction that uses magical tropes arbitrarily, other than irritating.

    I would like to mention three novels and one short story that aren't on your good list, each of which takes a different approach to magic, none arbitrary. These works (other than the fourth on the list) made lasting impressions when I read them decades ago, but I have not revisited them.

    1. Peter S. Beagle's The Last Unicorn. This is a serious work of art, somewhat symbolic or allegorical, and very sad.

    2. Robert Anton Wilson's The Widow's Son. I wasn't a big fan of RAW's other fiction, but I really like this novel and was disappointed that no other sequels were published in that series before his death. The book is a semi-historical semi-fantasy novel set in the eighteenth century; it includes a folk witch and a Masonic lodge. The witchcraft is an imaginative reconstruction which I thought was pretty good. I thought the lodge initiation was pretty good too, but I don't know enough about historical Freemasonry to tell how much of it was imaginary. Wilson had some personal contact with twentieth century witches.

    3. An initiation of the same sort is used to very different effect in a short story by Ursula LeGuin which I believe appeared in The Wind's Twelve Quarters. A journeyman initiation into a trade guild is described from the POV of the man being initiated, and in the course of the story it becomes clear that the intent of the initiation is to reconcile the candidate to the status quo and discourage him from coloring outside the lines.

    4. The White Raven by Diana Paxson. This is a historical fantasy novel of middling quality which I only skimmed. I mention it because the magic in it is based on late twentieth century neopagan models, performed with period appropriate technology, and giving realistic results. Besides being a prolific author of fantasy fiction, Diana Paxson works with the Cabbalistic Tree of Life and developed a school of oracular mediumship partly derived from Scandinavian models, so she knows whereof she writes.

  21. I will consider it. Since this morning my mind has been turning over some thoughts about refitting my notes 'Fritter also Spoke' into this frame work. I am not sure how well it would work. But the idea of a sequel to Zarathustra has been forming for a couple of years, and thinking of how strange history has been since Nietzsche, I wonder how strange in must have been following from Zarathustra.

    Zarathustra as a fabled and powerful sage of the past, many associate him with his evil (they even admitted it!) followers of his dark path who once nearly conquered the world, but others hold him as a great and misunderstood sage, practicing his ways in the fringes of society. Fritter is a gifted and disciplined self taught practitioner of the Way of Zarathustra, but when he goes to the Ass Festival he finds the opportunity to undergo the initiation of the Lion from a perhaps dubious group at the festival. During the initiation of the Lion he experiences a much more dangerous Dragon than anyone expected, Zarathustra!

    I promise you a teaser section in a couple of weeks, we will see if something of merit can be brought up out of it. Book 4 is my favorite part of Zarathustra, so lots of ham.

  22. HI john,
    I have been working on a story for the other contest, but it might fit here. My near total ignorance of what you really mean by the word magic makes it hard for me to know.

    The story is about the final rite of passage (and final test) for a small group of young people. They come from different cultures and have been training (and sacrificing) to become Skyriders. Skyriders spend their lives traveling the earth in large airships while offering a variety of services to the ground based cultures.

    So i guess my question is: Are rites of passage examples of magic?

    Also: is the catholic sacrament of confession another example of magic?
    Or am i missing something really important?

  23. In line with Robert Mathieson’s remark of Rowling’s convincing portrayal of school administration politics, there is at least one anthroposophist/Waldorf educator arguing that Rowling must have gone to a Waldorf school because of her understandings of how things tend to play out behind the scenes in schools that embrace the esoteric. While he also praises the mythopoeic potential of Potter’s prototypical individuation, it belies an acquiescence to the myth of progress that I am continuously at discomfort with as I have perceived it whilst interacting with the Waldorf community. I think it has to do with the acceptance on faith of various clairvoyant perceptions Steiner had, coupled with an uncritical eye in the broader anthroposophical community towards christian eschatology and notions of progress that don’t benefit from Steiner’s more nuanced neoplatonist perspective.

    Ironically two of my favorite books which might arguably qualify for this contest are Michael Ende's (who really did go to a Waldorf school) “The Neverending Story”(not the movie version) and his “Momo”. In the Neverending Story (which was the first mythopoeic story I actually read in print as a 10 year old and the first of many thereafter) it is not possible for the wondrous acts to happen in the human world, those only happen in “Fantastica”. Yet that imaginal world is being dismantled by humanity’s neglect of it, creatures consumed by the “Nothing” are transported to the human world where they become lies of the “denying of the non-material phenomena” sort. In the end the protagonist's consciousness is decidedly changed, his fear and shyness overcome, by his sojourn in the imaginal realm – for what he has to sacrifice in order to enact the wonderful acts in Fastastica (for each wish he loses a memory until he has none left and his return to the human world is threatened). Here the criticism could be made that the change in consciousness precipitated by such sacrifice can only be metaphorical because in reality it would require more discipline and will power than just being engrossed in a book for a day and a night – no matter how magical (in the figurative sense 🙂 ok wondrous). 

    In Momo the main action happens in the plane of consciousness with the protagonist whose unrepentantly vivid and well developed imagination is pitted against “the grey men“ (paranormal entities) who con and convince all of the adults in the town to deposit all of their superfluous conscious thought into a “time-savings bank” off of which the parasites survive. The adults promptly neglect their children to the care of compulsory schooling and the like and their lives deteriorate visibly as a result of mis-treating their fellows as machines in the most time efficient ways conceivable. The protagonist Momo's quest to rid them of their oppressors is quite entertaining, involves a journey into an Otherworld complete with an i-ching like tortoise oracle and an arguably feasible evocatory “time-stopping” spell with which she is able to contend with said grey men and return the towns peoples’ stolen time and considerateness.

    These are a bit different from John Silence, but not altogether far off of Fortune's Sea Priestess. What say you JMG, would they qualify? (And thanks for the opportunity… seeds are ruminating!)

  24. Patricia, I liked that bit from Lewis. Screwtape himself was a very mixed bag — sometimes extremely plausible, sometimes an unconvincing sock puppet for the particular mode of Christian theology Lewis favored, spouting things no devil in his wrong mind would ever utter — but the basic idea was good. I'm quite sure Tolkien shared that opinion, btw; the term that Treebeard once used for orcs, burarum, works out rather nicely as “those of the bureau” in medieval Latin. (Tolkien loved puns like that, and put them all through The Lord of the Rings. Remember the orc named Shagrat? Now think about what the verb “to shag” means in English slang — and yes, it meant that in soldier's slang in the First World War…)

    Cascadian, I hadn't heard of the good luck potion; I'd note, though, that that sort of placebo-effect working is the simplest end of actual magic, and you can go quite a bit beyond that.

    Unknown Deborah, Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn is to my mind one of the great works of fantasy; I remember to this day the exact circumstances of my first reading, and I've read it many times since then. I haven't read the others — in the last case, this is embarrassing, as Diana Paxson's a friend as well as a consistent champion of a couple of my most controversial books!

    Ray, I'll look forward to it. The basic idea of reenvisioning Also Sprach Zarathustra as a fantasy novel is delectable — I'll be rereading it in the not too distant future with that in mind.

    Jim, may I make a suggestion? Hit up a bookstore or, if cash is short, a public library and get a couple of books on actual magic. My book The Druid Magic Handbook might be one good option, as it has a tolerably detailed discussion of what magic does and what it doesn't do in the first few chapters. That'll give you the kind of background that will make it a lot easier for us to have a conversation about what counts as magic and what doesn't.

    DaShui, many thanks for the link. After the whole campaign is over, I may just do a post providing a detailed magical analysis of the various candidates and their campaigns, and yes, Trump will feature extensively in that.

    Morgan, I'll have to look that up, you know.

    Harvester, I don't think Rowling did go to a Waldorf school, but the same kind of stuff happens just as often in non-esoteric settings! As for Michael Ende, I've never read any of his books, so can't offer a meaningful response.

  25. Well, I don't like Harry Potter either (except Brad Neely's Wizard People, natch). But that kind of conception of magic — i.e. power over matter and energy — has been around forever. Faerie and folk tales have it, it's in The Golden Ass, mediaeval romances, you name it. As far as I can make out, the idea that magic is only about willful changes in consciousness is a (early-)modern one. You might object that faerie tales are not magical textbooks, but then neither is Harry Potter.

    Might not it be that the “Will” conception is indeed true, but this was not really recognized by any magical school until early modern times? I take it your view is to the contrary: that there have always been true mages who knew this, and when they seem to talk of power over matter and energy, it's not really so. (I read your intro to the Picatrix at my local university library, and I confess I cannot make head or tail of what is really supposed to be going on, from the modern view.)

  26. Hi JMG,

    Thanks for that! I do try to keep you and the other readers entertained. That story is hysterical too and it would have been a whole lot of fun. The Vulgariad indeed! Hehe! Too funny.

    As to the Trump thing, well magic is in play, but it isn't what people expect. When I was much younger a band released an album titled: “Australia the lucky (deleted bit of very naughty potty mouth)”. The album wasn't that good and probably shouldn't have sold many (if any) copies. It also ripped off some Ken Done art on the cover of a stylised koala bear engaging in naughty activities with paraphernalia. Anyway, people became upset, as they are won’t to do, and the band had to rapidly change the name of the album to: “Censored due to legal advice”. Suddenly all my friends wanted copies and the album was talked about far more than it should have been (i.e. its actual merit).

    Trump is a lot like that album in my mind, and the more people from the establishment class (let's call them by the proper name: The Aristocracy) verbally attack him, the more appealing he becomes to the masses. I fail to see how he will be able to successfully negotiate the power blocks that are causing the grid lock in Congress any better than the current lot (or previous lot) have been, but you never know. Stranger things have happened and you could do a whole lot worse (certainly my gut feel says that Constitutional rights will be increasingly ignored and justified away).

    The decline that we are in can’t actually be halted through better management because entropy eats all! (Did I just make that statement up? I reckon it is pretty good!)



  27. @Unknown Deborah: Number three on your list is Le Guin's short story “The Masters”, right? I liked that one. The initiation ceremony in the story is designed to un-teach the myth of progress. But then the initiate is drawn to exploring realms of mathematics outside what the masters deem acceptable, and persecution results. Le Guin writes pretty consistently against the religion of progress, so I read this as a thoughtful critique of how her own ideals could go just as wrong.

    Le Guin's described herself as a 'congenital atheist', but her view of magic and the unseen seems to have broadened over her career. Her early Earthsea stories are straight-up unrealistic fantasy (but with strong themes of equilibrium and the mortal frailty of the mage). More recently, she wrote a one-off novel set in her SF Hainish Universe, The Telling that could fit JMG's contest guidelines. It involves a planet where Earth has been taken over by religious zealots, a second planet has been taken over by materialist progress zealots, and an Earth-born anthropologist is sent to the second planet to investigate its persecuted indigenous religion. This turns out to centre around reading books and telling stories. The protagonist gradually gets used to the idea that there is such a thing as real religion, and even (by the smallest of narrative hints) real magic. I guess the only stroke against this story is that involves space travel.

    Finally, there's her incredible and understated book Always Coming Home. The stories in this collection, about an imagined culture in far-future California, fit both the Space Bats and the Beyond Broomsticks contests perfectly. I come back to this book often.

  28. Hi JMG,
    Really enjoying your thinking.
    I'm almost finished reading A World Full of Gods.
    Incredible. So thoughtful.
    I'm wondering how you reconcile strong and weak miracles (which seem more toward the fantasy end of the spectrum of consciousness) with the workings of practical occult magic you describe here.
    I'm also curious about the relationship between non-human entities (gods, spirits, etc.) and the consequences of our exploitation of the earth and errant use of technology.
    Thanks as always, and keep up the great work!

    I've also got questions about egregor, and the development of pathways of mental filters of myth in newborns, but those will wait for another time.

  29. One thing that has been disappointing for me about the fantasy genre is that it tends to mostly be sword and sorcery, and the setting invariably reflects the middle ages. I have come across very few stories set on another world but reflect different eras of human history, such as the 18th, 19th, or even 20th centuries, and those stories generally don't take into account the specific circumstances that allowed for more complex societies such as these to develop. Usually it's treated as an inevitability that society would progress to develop ever more complex technologies, but I imagine that many writers are believers in the myth of progress themselves.

  30. As magic fiction goes, “The Name of the Wind” by Patrick Rothfuss is not bad. Oh, and “The Red Lion” by Maria Szepes.

    Other than Conway's book, “Real Magic” by Isaac Bonewits can perhaps also be recommended.

  31. I had a magical experience that took me a few days to recognize for what it was. Dion Fortune said (paraphrase from memory) that at the equinox, the etheric tides change, and any Workings you had in process are either renewed, or swept out to sea, and likewise any psychic “contracts”.

    Last Thursday I had my sick 14-year-old familiar, a difficult, undersized little seal-point cat, put down when it became clear his decline was irreversible. He had been the “other self in fur” sort of familiar, and I had a very rough night that night, with Monkey Mind throwing up a lot of dust. It was on or about the Equinox that I got a message in my sleep that any issues I have ever had with putting down an animal had been dissolved. “You did your penance. You are absolved.” And I felt a clarity and newness I haven't felt in years.

    Now, this may have happened anyway, at whatever time the matter came up. But I'm not sure it would have been so powerful, or such a clean sweep. But I truly think the Equinox gave it that extra shove.

    Note: the house feels clean, light, airy, and “back to normal.” My surviving cat has lost his habit of spraying and has become very cuddly and peaceful. For what that's worth.

  32. Logan, so? The fact that the Harry Potter books aren't magical textbooks doesn't mean that those of us who read (and occasionally write) magical textbooks aren't bored with that approach to magic, and the fact that the same habit of inflating magic for dramatic effect has been around for a long time just means that operative mages in Roman times rolled their eyes at the hijinks in The Golden Ass for some of the same reasons I got bored with Harry Potter. (Mind you, I grant Apuleius this much — he managed to get by without a Dark Lord.) If you read old magical textbooks — there are quite a few of them around, from the Graeco-Egyptian magical papyri on — you'll find that the model of magic I'm proposing here, while it starts from modern philosophical concerns rather than ancient ones, makes sense of the old magic just as well as it does the early modern kind.

    Cherokee, oh, granted. I don't think Trump will be a particularly good president — though admittedly he wouldn't have to do much to be better than any of the recent lot; what makes him important is purely the movement that's rallied around him. That statement is indeed pretty good!

    Patricia, I saw that — a fine piece of traditional Innsmouth craftsmonstership. 😉

    Nick, glad you liked it. I noted in the book that as far as I can tell, “strong miracles” — that is, miracles that actually violate the laws of nature — don't actually happen, and “weak miracles” — that is, miracles that don't violate the laws of nature, and are experienced as miraculous because of their timing or their relationship to religious experience — fit perfectly within the model of magic I've presented here. (I should probably devote a post to this one of these days.) As for the relationship of the spiritual world to our current idiotic maltreatment of the biosphere, that's a huge issue, and will need several posts' worth of discussion — I'll put that on the get-to list.

    Dan, that's an excellent point! I've often thought of the faux-medieval default setting of modern fantasy as one of the least impressive features of the genre. If fantasy magic worked the way fantasy novels like to pretend it works, societies in fantasy worlds would doubtless appear at all kinds of levels of complexity, quite possibly including civilizations as complex as ours. I have a half-completed trilogy, At the Tree of the Six Winds, which is an interplanetary fantasy — set in a magical civilization of the far future that has mastered space travel within the inner solar system; I shelved it when it became clear that space travel really isn't going to be an option for human beings, but I may take a look at it again one of these days.

    AA, The Red Lion is a fascinating book, very much written from within the worldview of central European occultism; I haven't read the other. I'm not a great fan of Bonewits' Real Magic — identifying magic and parapsychology was an interesting hypothesis at the time, but I'm not sure it works all that well in retrospect — but certainly it's better than generic fantasy magic!

    Patricia, sorry to hear of your loss! I'd agree with Dion Fortune regarding the equinoxes; in the Golden Dawn tradition, there are important ceremonies at both equinoxes, and the shift in the mood and feeling of the world at that time is very palpable. (In the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn we also celebrate the solstices, of course, being Druids.)

  33. I've read a few books on magic but it seems so kind of 'internal' and invisible to me that I can't imagine how to show it outwardly in a story in actions. In terms that a reader can understand through their normal 5 senses you know? I'll read that Last Unicorn book.

    Slightly off topic, I bought a copy of the Nag Hammadi scriptures and I half know (ok a lot less than half) what they're on about which is quite mind blowing!! Like the bit about Jesus floating above the cross laughing down and what he appeared and felt like when he came back afterwards. I had no idea there were such things in Christianity and I was raised as one.

    A lot of it reads like books on magic actually – I guess because Neoplatonism is the link. They really don't give instructions about what to do though. Following around after wandering preachers seems to be recommended. And praying obviously. But it must have read like gobblydegook to lots of people. I read that the Gnostics infuriated mainstream Christians partly because of the vagueness. Did they teach the 'how' bits secretly in person to people they trusted maybe? To avoid being killed for sorcery or whatever.

    And I meant to ask you before – do you know who it is that teaches those of us who get the teaching dreams? Is it our higher selves?


  34. @ Cherokee Organics:

    That reference about Australia the lucky (bleep) was fracking hilarious. I looked it up and especially got a kick out of “Never Mind The Bollocks, Here's The House Of Representatives”, sentiments most Americans can readily identify with.

    We've had the same phenomenon in this country too. Billy Joel had a song that got quite a bit of airplay called “Only the Good Die Young”. It had a line that went “you Catholic girls start much too late”, referring to sex. The Catholic Church raised a huge stink about it back in the late 1970's. Joel later said that was the best thing that ever happened to his musical career, because it generated lots of buzz and people flocked to buy the album.

    Likewise, there was an X rated rap band called 2 Live Crew whose second album “As Nasty As They Wanna Be” was hugely controversial. We had Congresscritters denouncing it on the floor of Congress and a record store clerk in Florida was actually arrested for violating obscenity laws, as were three band members right after a concert. Needless to say, this only made the album even more popular and drove sales through the roof.

  35. “Oh, JK did the whole backstory in the later books on where evil comes from, seems it was a bunch of quasi fascist purity of the race stuff and sumthin sumthin about immortality.”

    The Evil Nazis Out To Take Over The World (or even better yet, The Evil Nazi Occultists Secretly Plotting To Take Over The World) have been classic cardboard villains ever since World War II. Every American president in the last few decades has justified America's imperialist wars by claiming that whatever foreign ruler the US is currently picking a fight with, from Manuel Noreiga and Saddam Hussein to Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin, is the next Hitler.

    So its not really surprising that JK borrowed that hackneyed and grossly overworn cliche as well.

  36. It seems to me that Trump is playing a great game of “Rope A Dope”, to borrow a phrase from the boxer Muhammed Ali.

    Fortunately for Trump, there are lots of dopes in both parties who play right into his hands by reacting the way they do and don't even realize they've being played for suckers. It's like something straight out of Sun Tzu.

    It also reminds me of the way that Vladimir Putin has played our clueless elites like suckers all the way from Georgia to Syria. They fall for it every time and don't have a clue as to what's really going on and why they're losing the game so miserably. Even the Roman imperial elites at their worst never demonstrated the level of inbred stupidity that has become the norm amongst the senile elites in America and the EU.

    I must admit that I find the whole thing to be highly entertaining to watch. Time to go grab some more popcorn…

  37. Hi JMG,

    Of course and I totally agree with you about what he represents and what it means for the times. I'm amazed and quite astounded by the hopes and emotional energy that people pour into the abstraction that he actually represents too.

    Thank you.

    Reading some of the replies and comments got me wondering about whether people may actually prefer a “Dark Lord” to the indifference of nature? Dunno, but perhaps the fixation on a Dark Lord feeds somehow into peoples sense of self worth? Not sure really, but certainly a Dark Lord has you (the metaphorical “you”) personally on their mind whether it be your community or as an individual. Nature on the other hand says, you can do what you want to do you've got a free hand, but it wouldn't be a bad idea if you worked with me given that you are I, and oh by the way, if you choose badly, I can replace you – no dramas at all. You've got me wondering about this.

    Hi Sojan,

    Glad you enjoyed the story. They were very naughty, weren't they? :-)! I enjoyed that Billy Joel song too and even as a young kid the meaning of that line wasn't lost on me, but I never heard of the backlash, but it would be great publicity. It was interesting too as Joel grew up in that culture. He was considered a punk way back in the day too, believe it or not.

    Yeah, my mate had that 2 Live crew album and he brought it for much the same reasons. I heard it a lot after that point and it did have “shock yo moma” value but again its merit was actually not quite up to the hype and they deserved to fade into obscurity. I seem to recall that they squeezed an Eddy Murphy sample from Delerious at the start of one of their songs too. Don't you reckon that it is a bit weird that Congress was used to denounce the band? Surely there would be easier ways to deal with such matters.



  38. Dylan- I agree with you about Le Guin's 'Always Coming Home'. I first read it in high school and was utterly baffled by it, but I never forgot it. I reread it last year after gaining some context from our host about deep mystical connections to nature, and it seemed beautiful and plausible. It's one of the few books I've ever dreamed about after reading.
    –Heather in CA

  39. So glad I thought to check this blog for updates! I'm enjoying this discussion very much. I recall when Harry Potter was in its heyday, evangelicals were denouncing the books as “instruction manuals in the occult” and trying to claim that they detailed real Wiccan spells–my thought was that if I could have repaired my broken-down glasses in an instant by waving my wand and shouting “Reparo!” instead of spending $900, I would have done it already.

    Off topic, JMG, you're still sticking in the craw of someone up here in Paganistan. Paganicon was last weekend, and on the schedule was this panel:

    Is Gaia Sick?

    This is an examination of Paganicon's inaugural keynote speaker, Archdruid John Michael Greer's religious, economic and political philosophy (“The Long Descent”) the Gaia is sick from our Civilization and our future survival depends on returning to a low energy culture. Neither I [Jack Green] nor 2014 Guest of Honor Oberon Zell think the 'Easter Island Syndrome' is the best approach for the survival of civilization and humanity. Join us as I explain why. I'd love to hear your ideas!

    Alas, I could not attend, as it was scheduled at 2:00 Friday afternoon. I was curious as to the nature of his beef and his argument, but nowhere near enough to lose a day's pay. Besides, having seen his 2014 panel with Oberon, I can make a fair guess at both.

  40. I was at my son's DeMolay meeting, which of course is ritual throughout. As they do, they presented the flag at the altar. I've always had problems, being someone with some historical education, with parts of the Pledge of Allegiance as being rather self-evidently untrue, such as 'indivisible,' 'under God,' 'justice for all'. Of course, I'm also aware that the Pledge is not all that old.
    But this time it occurred to me that the Pledge is a magical ritual, meant to enforce on the participants and listeners that the USA is exactly those untrue things. (Suddenly, I understand why some atheists object to the recitation rather than simply standing quietly.) Do I understand this correctly, or is there some way in which the Pledge is not a magical ritual that I am missing? And is there any way in which we can determine how much effect the Pledge has on the continued existence of a unified USA, or is that one of those unmeasurable things?
    (I had tried to post a rather similar comment yesterday, but as it did not come through, I suppose it vanished in the bowels of the internet.)

  41. I read all the Harry Potter books except the last two to my kids, they were old enough by the time that they came out to read those themselves. No one would mistake them for classic literature but the story rolled along well enough. My main objection was the stifling political correctness that permeates every page, there's certainly no mistaking J K Rowling's New Labour sympathies.

  42. @heather: So good to hear from someone else who's been affected by Always Coming Home. I've only ever seen it in one used book store I frequent. It's certainly not thrilling and definitely baffling, but I think she did something really profound with it. Your dream about it has my curiosity piqued.

    @Patricia Matthews: Yes, definitely. The Telling is just a visit to Tibet-in-outer-space. Not one of her best books on the whole. But I think the well-meaning American character does a good job navigating, and the magic in the story is so understated and surprising that it helps to frame for me what an entry in this fiction contest could look like. Minus the space travel. Can't sneak any of that past JMG.

  43. (Deborah Bender)

    One more recommendation of magical fiction: Tea With the Black Dragon by R. A. McAvoy, 1983. Set in California at the dawn of the personal computer era. The main characters include a programmer and a venerable Chinese scholar. A good read, magically consistent IIRC, and not hackneyed.

  44. (Deborah Bender)

    @BoysMom–The “under God” phrase was added when I was in elementary school. Besides ruining the scansion, I thought at the time and continue to think that it is inappropriate and unconstitutional to stick a religious statement into a pledge that all American citizens are invited/pressured to repeat and have I never spoken it aloud in all my years (although I am not an atheist). If you think I was precocious to have made that judgement as a small child, bear in mind that I'm Jewish and this wasn't the first time the issue of separation of church and state had come up in my life.

    The other parts you object to I have always understood as aspirational. Since I share those aspirations, I have no problem reciting them aloud.

    I've since read up on the earlier history of the Pledge. IIRC, it was composed and published in a newspaper during the Progressive Era, the original wording began “I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands . . .” and the author intended it to be adopted by any and all republics. It was intended as a statement of the values upheld by citizens of republics throughout the world, a statement of commonality, not nationalism.

  45. I made some sort of visceral decision to avoid the Harry Potter books without ever really knowing why. I just had the sense I'd be tarnished. Now reading through these comments it seems I was right.

  46. .Mallow, one very effective way to do a story involving real magic is to use either first person or third person very close focus, so you see the world through the eyes of one character. Make that character an operative mage, or perhaps a student of magic very slowly getting the hang of things, and that can work very well indeed. As for who the teacher is in teaching dreams, that's a very good question that has no easy answer, as the realm of experience in which dreams take place has no shortage of entities in it that can teach!

    Sojan, that's why I've commented that Trump is clearly a very, very smart man — smart enough to build his entire strategy around getting the other side to drive voters into his following en masse; and of course that's just what they did.

    Cherokee, you may well be right about the Dark Lord business! Better a malevolent Lord Moldywarp who spends all his time thinking about how to make you suffer than a universe that never got around to noticing your existence, and would not care about it if it did notice…

    Blackwings, oh, but it would have been so entertaining to watch him whack a straw man with my face crudely painted on it! I stick in the craw of a lot of people in Paganistan, which has yet to cost me a millisecond of lost sleep. 😉

    BoysMom, good. The Pledge is very, very simple magic, and gets its power mostly from being repeated so often — but yes, I think it has a fair amount to do with the way that so many Americans live in what amounts to an imaginary country, and do their level best not to notice the gaps between that fantasy kingdom and the facts of life here in the actual United States.

    Mikep, one of the great problems of the current liberal mainstream is its total conviction that it knows what good and evil are, and evil is always something other than the current liberal mainstream. I'll be talking about that next month on the other blog.

    Deborah, I remember that one dimly — wasn't that MacAvoy's first novel? I wasn't a great fan, though it did its best to avoid the standard fantasy cliches (while falling into some of those of another genre).

    Sojan, a definite blast from the past. One of my lady friends during my first pass through college was a punk rocker of the leather-jacketed, buzz-cut, boot-wearing variety, and she was a great fan of the DKs.

    Onething, I don't know that I'd say you'd have been tarnished, just that there are many better books to read.

  47. Re: Boysmom/JMG on the Pledge of Allegiance: Within the context of Demolay and other various subsets of Freemasonry, of course, there’s a significance to the Pledge that leaves it functioning with a very particular magical intent that’s somewhat relevant to the overall energy of our age, which is the undertone within those traditions of holding onto these things for posterity even if the rest of society abandons them. All good ideas, including those central to the American project such as social justice, tolerance, equality, democracy inevitably pass away as the passage of time and the meaner demons of human nature take hold in every age. When I find myself reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, I usually find myself placing into it, especially in the increasingly troubling times in which America finds itself, the intent of preserving the ideals of the Republic, of individual freedom, and social justice for posterity even as the ideals themselves are slowly abandoned. For me, of late, the pledge is something I say not so much as a reiteration of the propaganda that this is what we, as a nation still are and will always be, so much as a prayer that even if those ideals die away, they, like the arts and sciences, and the various civil virtues that are increasingly surrendering to brute force may still be preserved in a few faithful hearts until the time is right for them to emerge again… I’ve been meditating on Aristotle’s idea of Justice as a personal virtue to achieve, rather than something that will ever exist in the society around us… To my mind, the magic of the pledge can be redirected inward to say that even if our country abandons its ideals, I won’t; and that those ideals… a right relationship with the gods, the pursuit of a just life, a respect for the sovereignty of others, and an undivided commitment to my core values no matter how far they retreat to the fringe… are things worth committing to and holding onto.

    Re: Dark Lords: Do I sense the initial whiff of a future post on magical ethics wrapped up in that criticism of pop culture conceptions of good and evil? The whole “dark lord” concept, also seems to have come largely out of Christian dualism, in which our day to day life is the subject of an eternal cosmic battle between Good and Evil. That’s the trap even the people who claim to be the furthest removed from Christian dualism just can’t seem to escape from, and I’ve been watching the descent into that binary reach a crescendo lately. And I’m hearing more and more people on every American political spectrum that exists crying out for blood. Perhaps it’s time to shift gears in my magical practice from the usual, more mystical pursuits I’m interested in, and focus in on mastering some of the sort of spell work devoted to diffusing hostile situations without getting murdered, reducing my chances of getting shot by a stray bullet or blown up by a car bomb on the way to work, and avoiding the attention of militarized law enforcement while there’s still time (and, of course, studying up on what tends to happen to political moderates during revolutions and civil wars, recognizing that merely refusing to demonize the “other side” itself is an action I take at the cost of my own life and learning to accept that). In the meantime, I and a close friend will be giving a presentation on virtue ethics at a Pagan festival down in North Carolina (the community down there is overwhelmingly Wiccan, and one of the community leaders gives a presentation on the Rede every year, we decided to shake things up), recent legislation down there has put the locals deeper into dark lord territory than they usually are, so it ought to be an interesting experience.

  48. So, I'm having trouble reconciling the concept of an indifferent universe with metempsychosis. Metempsychosis would seem to indicate a universe in which there is at least a role for us to play, as opposed to a cosmos filled with blank indifference or one in which we are the pinnacle.

    Also, as far as the writing challenge goes, are the types of experiences recounted by commenters here fair material for the stories? For instance, I haven't built angel traps myself, but could my story include the sending of malicious spirits against an enemy?

  49. Hi JMG,

    Thank you. I genuinely believe nature will do fine without us, especially if we are less than careful. I mean 65 million years ago there were dinosaurs! Not today though (well apart from the birds) oh yeah and those pesky crocodiles and sharks have been around unchanged for about 300 million years or so.

    You may laugh at me and fair enough too! Knowledge seeps in slowly as I'm spread across a number of different activities and projects and sometimes have to think many different thoughts at once! Hehe! Oh well, I better fess up. I've been calling the equinox by the name of the solstice for years now… Whatever happened to a proper education? Fortunately, you provide us all with an interesting education of sorts.



  50. Hello everyone, and John Michael Greer.

    I've been enjoying this blog as a lurker but will jump in to share a way of a first approach to Kabbalah that some might find useful. This is apropos the comments regarding the opacity of Regardie's books on the subject.

    I looked up each Hebrew letter from Aleph to Tav in JMG's Encyclopedia of the Occult and read and meditated on the accompanying essays that are concise, cross-referenced, and expertly knowledgeable. The printing of the Hebrew letters in that book are beautiful, inviting me to gaze on them. Then I found that if I shifted my gaze to a blank white wall, I'd see the letter starkly set off as on a screen. When I closed my eyes the image would persist so that with repetition of this procedure I developed sturdy visual images of the letter that I could summon at will. Perhaps there's an added benefit of seepage of image and words into one's unconscious? In any case, it's a very enjoyable way to learn the alphabet and some lore as well!

  51. JMG said: As for who the teacher is in teaching dreams, that's a very good question that has no easy answer, as the realm of experience in which dreams take place has no shortage of entities in it that can teach!” I find that interesting.

    Cliff said: “So, I'm having trouble reconciling the concept of an indifferent universe with metempsychosis. Metempsychosis would seem to indicate a universe in which there is at least a role for us to play, as opposed to a cosmos filled with blank indifference or one in which we are the pinnacle.”

    Smilarly, I wonder about the entities in the realm of experience in which dreams take place. What draws them?

    And I am still interested in 'ancestors'. They seem to care enough to have a role.


  52. I recall a transformative “change of consciousness” that came over me on first encountering ADR, something along the lines of “there's work to do, and I'm able to do it, time to get stuck in”…. this poured motivatiom and energy into my outlook which was rather pessimistic and stuck “where to start”? Looking back I would say I experienced a magical working of some kind, or it was left there for “she who hears” to experience.

    I am feeling thoughtful about this “personalised” Dark Lord business, as a very dear friend appears very caught up
    in contemplation of “the NWO agenda” – a comtemplation that appears to lead him away from action and into a certain amount of suspicion of others who won't “wake up”…

    But perhaps the sense that someone cares enough to *personally* want to poison your children and depopulate your earth is appealimg.

    For my part, the ADR “magic” felt exactly like waking up to a day full of small, but real accomplishments a person could take pleasure in if so mindef.

  53. Relating to the repeating theme of this blog of the consumption of this cycle of alternative spirituality by political interests, and its subsequent collapse, this piece has been making big waves in the Pagan World. By way of their labeling of AODA, Spengler, and “long descent Druids” you get indirectly referenced in this as well. What it seems is going on right now is a mass migration of Neopagan traditions to radical right wing fascism on one end, radical left wing Marxism on the other, and everyone in the middle who was mainly interested in casting spells, meditating, and fostering mystical experiences is being the subject of a witch hunt. The more and more the world looks like Maple Street (not sure if you did enough TV to catch the “twilight zone,” but Monsters are Due on Maple Street is one worth watching in our world these days), the more the next wave of political radicalism on all sides is beginning to tear at the occult world. This piece might go down as the Krishnamurti moment. We'll see:


  54. Correction: Encyclopedia of the Occult should be replaced by The New Encyclopedia of the Occult by John Michael Greer.

    If a blank white wall is not available, one may shift one's gaze to a white sheet of paper.

  55. @Cliff, Phil Harris:

    With respect to reincarnation, there’s a difference between local conditions and universal conditions. “Local conditions” can be sufficiently widespread that one can easily mistake them for universal conditions. That said, I don’t subscribe to the Drunkard’s Walk version of reincarnation that’s current in, for example, Hinduism and Buddhism. The version of (re)incarnation I subscribe to is radically different from most models that are older than the late 20th century.

    I also think that, while metempsychosis is probably correct globally, a version of reincarnation where humans exclusively incarnate as humans is more likely true locally. It at least has overwhelming support by all the evidence I’m aware of.

  56. Eric, good! Yes, the Pledge of Allegiance can be used as the affirmation of an ideal, but that requires a conscious effort. I worry that too many people don't approach it that way. As for magical ethics, I'll need to do more than one post, probably, if I tackle that very difficult subject — to start with, a lot of confusion around ethics in general will have to be cleared away, and that's a task that makes Heracles' little cleanup job in the Augean stables look tolerably easy. Just the task of showing that ethics is not about telling other people what not to do, on the basis of some arbitrary claim of unearned authority, is going to take serious work!

    Cliff, not at all. Metempsychosis can be as impersonal and uncaring as the law of the conservation of energy, which in fact it rather resembles. Grant the standard occult theory that the soul (however defined) is an entity with its own existence, rather than a mere activity of meat, and it's entirely reasonable that such an entity might be chucked out of one body on death and scooped up by another of a corresponding level of complexity and quality during gestation; rinse and repeat until the soul develops enough capacity for reflective self-knowledge that it can remain conscious during and after death and can do something besides get sucked into the next body with which it more or less resonates.

    As for your question about stories, yes, you may — I'd encourage you to ask before borrowing something from someone else, but I give everybody free permission to adapt any of my anecdotes for the story challenge, if that appeals to you.

    Cherokee, good heavens, of course nature will get along fine without us. Megafauna — meaning anything much bigger than a good-sized sewer rat — are far and away the most disposable life forms on this planet; Mam Gaia happily produces and discards them in vast numbers. Of course she has a taste for saber teeth — did you know that there were nine-foot salmon with saber teeth a few million years ago? — so compassion is arguably not her strong suit…

    Kelvin, thank you! That's got to be one of the more interesting uses for my New Encyclopedia of the Occult I've heard yet; it's been praised as the best bathroom reading in modern occult literature, but I hadn't heard of it being used as flashcards! Still, glad to hear that it worked.

    Phil, in occult theory, it's a very, very, very crowded universe, with many different orders, kinds, classes, varieties, and levels of beings, some of whom exist in modes of being that overlap with the human world and are affected by us, as we are affected by them.

    Scotlyn, thank you. It's very good to hear that the blog had that effect.

    Eric, thank you. It's been a while since I've seen so overheated, and so impressively ignorant, an example of the “everybody whose ideas I don't like must be an EVIL FASCIST!!!” school of rhetoric. The sidelong muttering about “Long Descent druids” is particularly choice.

    Degringolade, well, he's a fictional character, to begin with. Back when Asimov wrote that, science fiction hadn't yet become as permeated with Saganian pseudoskepticism as it has since then, and a lot of SF writers put in fantasy elements, usually with parapsychological jargon to give them a fig leaf of scientific respectability. Asimov did that a lot, which must have caused him some degree of embarrassment late in his life, when he gave his backing to the anti-parapsychology crusade. To return to your question, though, while the Mule changes consciousness, he does so in ways that aren't consonant with what can actually be done by magic, so he's right up there with the less obviously physical of Rowling's spells.

  57. On what is and is not magic… “…cause change in consciousness in accordance with will…” Being my first post, I want to say that have been following your blogs for years, thank you for the work you have done and are doing! Anyhow… I have started reading another blog that popped into my head when you re-itereated that definition… and got me thinking about the topics of this blog and I guess alternative … methods…. of so called Masterful Persuaders that Scott Adams over at the Dilbert blog has been going on about for near a year. Even first began referring to them as Master Wizards… but then changed to Master Persuaders as his posts went more mainstream. It is an interesting perspective on what is happening and definitely interesting to watch… What would this be called from the perspective of this blog? a sub-set? A nefarious splinter? Something altogether different? has me curious… An index: http://blog.dilbert.com/post/139541975641/the-trump-master-persuader-index-and-reading-list

  58. Actually, I thought of 2 more bits of real magic in Harry Potter, or they would be if you expected symbolic and not literal results.

    The first is that delightful middle school version of the Litany Against Fear, the “ridiculous” spell. You point your wand at your bugbear/boogie man, say “Ridiklus!” and imagine him, her, or it in a situation that makes them funny, not fearful. The boogieman slipping on a floor full of marbles. Draco's bully-boys in tutus and hair ribbons. Dolores Umbridge lecturing in her bra and girdle – or a Hello-Kitty themed nightie that keeps showing her assets. Actually, Alice discovered it a century earlier: “Why… you're nothing but a pack of cards!”

    The second, for when the danger is serious and you have to fight, is calling on your Spirit Animal for strength – the “patronus” spell. Even if it's a rat. Put me in a corner where I have to go berserk and watch what a cornered grey badger can do! And I'm of a cowardly temperament by nature, usually. And I'm sure some people have an alley cat for a patronus – channeling an alley cat would be a big help when up against, say, the Mean Girls clique at school.

  59. (Deborah Bender)

    @Patricia Mathews–When I lived in a sketchy neighborhood and didn't own a car, I frequently rehearsed calling upon the Gorgon Medusa. I haven't had to put this to a test, but given my level of physical fitness, it probably would work at least as well as any other response to an attack. The objective is to slow down the attackers' reaction times or cause them to flee.

  60. @Patricia: Actually, probably the closest thing in those books to “real” magic would probably be the practice of Legilimency, and Occlumency, which are the process of magically discerning and influencing another person's mind, and shielding oneself from the same respectively. Interestingly, that particular bit of magic is presented in the book as a rare skill that only a few wizards possess, and when Harry has to learn it to learn to resist allowing people to use his emotions against him, he can't ever seem to master it, since it involves going in every day for practice sessions that involve periods of intense concentration, and learning how to go through a process of clearing his mind and then systematically closing it off section by section every night before going to sleep. There's also one very clever line thrown in during the sixth book, where the narrator makes the observation that, in magic, “bangs and smoke are more often the marks of ineptitude than expertise.” The series, overall has some real gems tossed in, especially in some of the alchemical symbolism mixed in throughout the series. Author John Granger has some really interesting work on that, in particular, and hearing him speak to some students in a course a friend was a TA for on modern fantasy literature was the thing that finally convinced me to give the series a chance. His work also gets cited in Phillip Carr-Gomm's introduction to Rosicrucianism in his “Book of English Magic,” (which is, itself an excellent sourcebook on the history of magic that's, in my mind one of the more readable and approachable introductions to magic high and low throughout the ages.)

  61. Eric S, it's good to see that the loony left have found something to distract them from their recent disappointments. Being so cruelly dumped by the working class has clearly hit them hard, at least they are now in a safe place. Safely out of everyone else's way that is.

  62. @JMG: I think things are a lot more organized than your characterization of metempsychosis suggests. In particular, each incarnation is planned in conjunction with the parents-to-be; it is not similar to a pinball arcade. It does, however, seem to be true that it takes a number of incarnations before Essence is no longer at the mercy of the body and manages to get the process under control.

  63. JMG said :
    Cherokee, good heavens, of course nature will get along fine without us.////
    This begs the question, to me, of magic in nature. Perdon me for asking such a vague, generic question. What range of the ground covered by occult philosophy is also experienced by other species or physical objects, and how ? Could other species experience other magical phenomena unknown to us, or different motivations ?

  64. Patricia,
    “calling on your Spirit Animal” is what I first thought Druidry was all about. It may not be the case, but due to the emtions we project on animals, and the tension between what makes us close to them and what separates us from them, animals could be powerful mental tools. I believe, for example, that visualizing animals in certain ways can very slightly affect the state of my body. Nothing spectacular… but better than nothing when your best option is to just lie down and sleep.

  65. JMG, I've been reading up on Druid Magic, Golden Dawn Magic, Lakota Medicine, and Dagara Shamanism, trying to absorb as many views of magic and the unseen as I can. This blog has really sparked a new way of seeing for me! Your Druid Magic Handbook was especially helpful in explaining what magic is and how it works, even if I don't intend to follow the practical ritual work.

    Knowing that about myself, I'm content for now just reading and learning about the ceremonial magic you write about. I'm wondering, though, if you've written any books, or have any books to recommend, about everyday magic- astral experiences or phenomena that non-mages can expect to come across. David Conway's book looks, at first glance, more suited to the aspiring operative mage. I'm simply trying to live as a more aware and open-minded person, without slipping into superstition, as I find myself doing occasionally when I contemplate possible magical dimensions of my life.

  66. Hi JMG,

    That Salmon is what I would describe as a “Toothy”! Honestly, the country here is turning me into a bit of Toothy too because I've found that the longer I stay here, the more my consciousness shifts into a harder, quicker to judge, no nonsense and more certain of myself sort of a mindset. Certainly the forest here has had a significant impact on my internal outlook / worldview and yeah, nature can be rough.

    You know I've given up on fiction writing, but it seems to me that stories involving magic would suit a more intimate dialogue style where the reader can join along with the journey of the characters. Big sweeping, epic storylines are probably not suited to the use of real magic. I like the small wins anyway. Many long years ago, I ran a graduate program for a big corporate and it was a real pleasure getting the graduates to wake up to the world around them and start to learn how to think for themselves. My perspective tells me that those are the sorts of stories that show real magic at work. By the way, I'm not even sure I understand what a hippogriffin is. It does sound like a rather far fetched by also seriously fearsome beastie. ;-)! I wonder if it will make friends with me? (Apologies for the bad sci-fi humour). I reckon that giant salmon wouldn't…

    Oh, what were we talking about? Technology. That's right. I noticed with the most recent visitors to the farm here that they said to me that they'd like to transport what I'd done here over to their farm. Internally, I was thinking to myself: How lazy can a person be to wish for that? And also what is stopping them from starting themselves? And why would they put words to such a strange sentiment? Are they seriously wishing for that outcome? The people usually seem pretty good at commanding other people to do stuff too, they didn’t even pick up after themselves after I fed them. I have to add that I rarely open the farm for casual visits these days because it generally annoys me – unless I know the person well.

    Oh yeah, technology. They got me thinking because I reckon that whilst very rich energy is casually applied to tools with good results, magic will be unlikely to get a strong showing, outside of those people that are interested in it. I'd be very interested to hear your thoughts about this, because I'm aware of so many people who are quite physically and mentally lazy and I look at them and see that they are in some sort of a funk that they can't pull themselves out of. And as the system stands, they are rewarded for their behaviour. My mind tells me that they are numbed to the world around them and I want to shake them by the shoulders and tell them to wake up, but I'd probably get into legal trouble for doing that, so it is probably not a good idea.

    I see a squeezing process going on at the moment as the per capita allocation of energy and resources are declining and people are getting voted off the island, and the individuals are unprepared for that brutal initiation and they have absolutely no guidance and in fact usually end up blaming themselves. I saw an article in the newspaper today saying loan defaults are up, but the article was also trying to dismiss any concerns. The four big banks here make up a quarter of the value of the stock exchange… Maybe some sort of collapse initiation would be a good idea? Dunno, just thinking out loud.



  67. JMG, you wrote in your reply to Cliff,
    “Metempsychosis can be as impersonal and uncaring as the law of the conservation of energy, which in fact it rather resembles. Grant the standard occult theory that the soul (however defined) is an entity with its own existence, rather than a mere activity of meat, and it's entirely reasonable that such an entity might be chucked out of one body on death and scooped up by another of a corresponding level of complexity and quality during gestation”

    I can't speak for Cliff, but personally it's not the possibility of metempsychosis that I have trouble reconciling with an indifferent universe, but the universality and inevitability of it that you've suggested in previous posts. It's also different from what you wrote in “A world Full of Gods”. On page 135 of that book, you wrote “Modern Pagans who accept reincarnation as the common pattern of the afterlife have some evidence for their beliefs, though dogmatism on the point would be a mistake. Those who believe that their gods grant them some other variety of afterlife may be equally correct” It would be easier for me to reconcile a sort of metempsychosis with an indifferent universe if it happened conditionally, say it was an instinct that souls had, or if other, more powerful entities have the power and ability to place souls into new bodies.

    I guess my biggest hangup in reconciling the view of metempsychosis that you've presented with the world as I've gotten to know it is how neat and orderly your version seems compared to events in the natural world. Organisms in nature have natural tendencies to grow, reproduce etc, but there are so many variables that can change their course in unexpected ways. I don't quite get your law of conservation of energy comparison, it seems to me that a similar natural law on the plane of awareness would just entail that awareness continues in some form and doesn't entirely cease, it wouldn't necessarily conserve the particular forms that awareness takes or cause them to inexorably gain complexity. Complexity in nature is likely to also be fragile, and doesn't necessarily lead to even greater complexity.

    I'm willing to consider that things work very different on the nonphysical planes, but I'm still trying to understand how metempsychosis fits into the universe, and can't help but wonder if the human tendency to simplify a complex, messy, sometimes unnerving reality is at work in this situation.

  68. Cliff,

    “Metempsychosis would seem to indicate a universe in which there is at least a role for us to play, as opposed to a cosmos filled with blank indifference or one in which we are the pinnacle.”

    That the universe is indifferent is unproven and counterintuitive, nor must we choose one or the other from the above.

  69. Hi Jean-Vivien,

    Well, I reckon the answer depends on whether you personally see human entities that are separate from nature, or part of nature? Many humans act as if they are separate from nature, so no stress really if that is your gear.

    It is just that from my perspective, we are a part of nature and, well to be honest, all you need to practice magic is what you are born with. And yeah, it does seem to be that simple to me. So the conclusion I take from that, and to answer your question, of course other animals experience magic as it is understood here.

    I'll give you an example of magic at work in the animal kingdom for you to dwell on. I have a dog, who is an old Scruffy Terrier. His name is Sir Scruffy because he is a gentleman and is usually well behaved and maintains an aloof air from all of the general dog silliness that goes on here unlike some of the other canine ratbags.

    Sir Scruffy is a medium sized dog, but he will run and bark at some of the 6+ft kangaroos that also live here. Sir Scruffy is an old dog, and the big buck kangaroos could easily inflict some serious physical damage to him, if not kill him – and he knows that risk. And yet, he still runs and barks at them and chases the kangaroos to a more or less agreed upon demarcation line near the edge of the forest. The kangaroos in turn see and hear Sir Scruffy's approach and they bolt to beyond that invisible line. Sir Scruffy wouldn't know what to do with one of the massive kangaroos if he did come into close contact with them.

    Is not magic the art of causing changes in consciousness in accordance with will? Sir Scruffy's actions caused a change in consciousness with the kangaroos in accordance with his will.

    I don't know about objects, because I believe you may be confusing material objects as having a consciousness and magic is not useful in that circumstance. However, if you were to change your own consciousness through magic and that caused you to undertake a useful activity such as gardening and producing some food, then perhaps magic can be said to have a limited effect on the material plane, but it must be enacted through something that has a consciousness.

    And you have to understand that I believe that animals have a consciousness as we understand that concept, although many would argue otherwise. I see little reason to disbelieve that, but then I live much closer to nature than most people are comfortable with. Even the chickens show all sorts of individual personalities and abilities and some of them are very sneaky indeed.



  70. I was wondering today while working if I could communicate with animals through a sort of 6th sense like with people, i.e. feeling their energy, as that would be the logical next step, as I feel it easier all the time to feel people's enrrgy oraura. When I went out the building, a heron was standing on the lawn, srayed much from its usual paths. 10 meters later two crows were fighting in mid flight before my eyes. I never saw that in all my years. A heron I only saw in very isolated watery parks. This reminded me of the occasion a couple years back when, while visiting the zoo here, the python stared at us ominously hissing, following us as long as we were in front of its glass. It reminded me then of Harry Potter scene in first book. The bird incidents today were so conspicuous in connection to my speculations during work that I looked them up and find it all to be very good omens. However it seems that due to 20 years of magical (yogic)practice I begin to be having some sort of connection with my environment which is noncoincidental. I had actually speculated if I were to go to the zoo or a farm to see if I could feel them like I do people but the animals re way ahead of me. Shamanic practice this is probably called.

    I recall once using a ouija board as a kid and getting scared when it seemed to work, just like you suggest people are afraid of magic. Nowadays I expect iching to give good answers. I am not afraid of magical, inexplicable coincidences in my life. The problem is trying to do such things on purpose. Like getting anyone, animal or human to do something they would not otherwise do. I see this as incorrect. I only want self realization. Magical results are incidental side effects, proof of God's grace on the path to enlightenment, i.e. encouragement to keep on the straight and narrow. I hope these omens are real and as auspicious as I read in the internet. I hope basically to keep growing in my spiritual connection to the world as I read in savitri or as for example with St. Francis of Assissi with his talking to birds and developing stigmata.

    A lot of the problem with superstition is seeing or expecting such really weird coincidences of magical qualitty, like predicting things or omens coming unexpectedly, to happen upon order or all the time. Like in Homer they interpret only the most conpicuous bird omens which happen upon very special moments, not like every time he steps out of the house to use the outhouse he interprets cloud shapes to decide when he should go to bed. If magic is just trying to change things on purpose, I don't think it is worthwhile. The whole thing is too powerful to misuse for egoistic purposes. Ego is here to be eliminated, to become one with God.I was for example always quite lonely, shy and now I can feel people and understand them, grok them. Aurobindo describes how savitri could feel the whole universe and it became part of her after becoming lost in the void of an empty nirvana. I am not sure how much what I experience corresponds to his story line but certainly a general form is familiar in my experience.

    I feel that fictional accounts are therefore very useful to us as practicing esoterics, if they show us real truths about ourselves in our unique emotional worlds. Like novels about women, immigrants, gays, etc. in phases of their development in social history struggling for modern rights. This is however art not genre fiction according to a formula, i.e. entertainment. Like you say everyone has their taste. I recently bought schopenhauer,kant, homer, divine comedy. I am trying to read paradise lost as well. But for me to say 'aha, i get it', somebody got what I am going through and I can see the next stage in an almost generic path. I enjoy homer and philosophy is ok but real art mirrors real experience.

  71. So reflective self-knowledge is what lets you stay conscious after death. Thinking of Jesus doing his hovering over the cross thing, is that related to astral projection? Self-knowledge isn’t an abstract thing is it? What about people suffering from Alzheimers or dementia when they die?

    Oh, and in my ‘nightclasses’ I think I learned that moonlight can go into the astral body and make it sort of blend in with the earth (well, not the soil literally but the energy felt the same – and a bit like the air also). It sounds like the telluric current in the Druidry books. Would that be right?

    And the thing about alchemy and purifying the ability to feel, think and will – those abilities are kind of literally done by different bodies aren’t they. I keep messing up by thinking when I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be feeling or willing. It’s like the wrong fuel for the vehicle. Thinking can’t make the astral body go. Is it willing that is the proper motor for it? It is very hard to separate them out and control them separately.

    And can I just add a thank you here to my very nice and patient teacher/s at night school as well as to you for providing day school. It’s great to be able to translate what I learn there into daylight terms that my mind can understand. It’s like having an experiential class and a theoretical one!


  72. (formerly posting as ourgreattransition)

    Thank you for the challenge JMG which I shall gladly take up. I have too many unfinished stories on my computer, and this will hopefully give me the discipline needed to finish a story! Though we shall find out later this Summer!

    The angle that comes initially to mind that I have spent some time considering this morning is to set it in a future collapsing industrial world – as I'm already working on a novel, that I think will take me some time to develop set in such a world, so I can use this story too to help develop my own ideas of the future in my part of the world. I'm going to keep the topics close to what I am currently practising/learning about.

    So rough idea, set it around the end of this century or beginning of the next. The protagonist will be a farmer who perhaps discovers some books and journals in the loft of his farm when clearing out one day, that discuss magic and druidism – or maybe it's knowledge that's been passed down through the family – not sure yet. Perhaps there's a local 'wizard' type character – again a farmer, so down-to-earth and pragmatic. Think natural magic, herbal alchemy, some basic geomancy, maybe some biodynamics and I might throw in some astrology too as I've long been interested in it. The context for the story I think will be some sort of nuclear explosion/meltdown that occurred a decade or two earlier that affected the area and his attempt will be to help heal the land and perhaps the local people with these techniques. Seeing as right now the UK (or rather Chinese) government are building a nuclear power plant right on the sea a few dozen miles across the Bristol Channel from where I live it seems too (frighteningly) appropriate to write about it, and it may be worth researching now what can be done ahead of such an event should it ever happen. Those are the initial thoughts anyway – I'm going to run with those and see where they take me.

    Oh and thanks for the discount code, and for the notification of free shipping 🙂 it's on its way.

  73. Hi,

    I'm experiencing an effect when I do the sphere of protection that I haven't read described anywhere and am wondering what is going on. If someone can tell me I would be very appreciative.

    I have been doing a modified version of it for over a year and a half, where I imagine a beam from my heart area to each of the six points as the ritual is described on AODA. In my mind, I stay at each point of the cross until I am able to see/feel that beam going out to infinity. Depending on how tired I am at night when I do it, I have a more or less clear vision of each. I don't invoke or banish (I haven't got the energy after long days of work) but at the end, instead of circulating the light of the cross, I imagine something like a white shock wave expanding in all directions. I never could visualize the circulating of the light properly.

    For the last couple of months, before I can finish the cross, I begin to feel an energy pressure from my core that wants to flow out, and when I come to the end, it's like a powerful gust of wind whooshing through me and expanding in all directions towards infinity. “Exploding” would be a fairly close description. It lifts me off my feet to my tiptoes, my whole body feels lifted, like it wants to fly and I am catching an updraft. It's quite exhilarating.

    It doesn't feel like I am causing it. When I try to hold it back until the end, the effect is dampened. I need to allow it to happen, for it to happen. However, it's interfering with my concentration on doing the cross because I can feel the energy pressure begin as soon as the first line (up/down) is completed. I'm trying to hold it back so I can get the cross done. Maybe I shouldn't?

    What is this? Is this me causing it or is something else, or someone else, doing this? Something I should be worried about? Is it a result of having rather vague deities that I'm addressing? If it makes a difference, they are
    Almighty creator, giver of life (up)
    Gaia our mother, nurturer of life (down)
    Great Spirit, keeper of souls (right)
    Holy One, everywhere in everything (left)
    Eternal god of love and goodness, shining through me. (front and back)

    I've encountered a nasty entity before, so tried to play it safe with some good guys, and because of my Christian baggage, wanted to focus on names my subconscious wouldn't have a problem with.

    Will I be ruining it by discussing it with others, taking it to the level of logic and thought as opposed to pure experience?

    Advice and suggestions are greatly welcome!

  74. BTW, JMG,
    I'm guessing your challenge to write a story about real magic is a fine piece of magic on your part!

    Your spell is working well with me, anyway, as I have already done some serious thinking and research on just what magic is and is not, and what it looks like in practice.

    Much appreciated!

  75. http://thejuniperlog.blogspot.com/2016/04/paul-also-spoke-cave-of-shadows.html

    This is a little writing experiment on the Zarathustra sequel I mentioned. The basic idea for what I want to write is still evolving too quickly to do any serious drafting, but I wanted to share this little bit, as it is the first notes I mead long enough to justify a post on my blog.

    Back story, much in unimportant, just a frame I use brain storming, frame gets bent as convenient at this point:
    Paul got his name from Paul of tarsus for very similar reasons to why Zarathustra got his name.
    Parallel world, more like the one where Zarathustra preached in Germany (as established by the conversation with the Kings) than our own.
    100 years before Paul's birth was the disappearance of Zarathustra, still something of a mystery.
    Ni Tzu is a mystery teacher from shortly after Zarathustra's time who developed a magical system based on the prophet's sayings; Also fills in for the most influential thinkers of our history who were heavily indebted to Nietzsche; Freud, Tillich, Jung… etc etc.
    Zarathustra is blamed for some political types who applied Ni Tzu's thaumatergic techniques to very destructive ends, In many circles 'decent folk' think of Zarathustra as being twisted, and are unlikely to quickly warm to his followers.
    The Ass Festival is still on going. Likely where Paul is aiming to go soon. It is inspired by the Rainbow Gathering. Has a important minority of folks who take Ni Tzu's system very seriously; and the rest of the people either thinks Zarathustra and Asses are cool, or are just looking to party in the high mountains.
    Superheros. Paul is looking for Superheros, which are the Ubermenchen of his time. Like Disposable Man, and the Green Wizard Corp!

  76. I've got a couple of thoughts banging around in my head about your response. The first is that it seems as though you're describing a mechanism of spirit, rather than one of matter. I may be getting lost in abstractions here.

    The second thought is that perhaps we have different ideas of an “indifferent universe.” When I see that phrase, I begin thinking of the materialist view of the universe, in which we're accidental blips of awareness flailing through an otherwise lifeless void until a cosmic accident wipes us out.
    The occult perspective seems to be a little more hospitable than that, at least.

  77. Hi JMG,

    I think that the type of universe used in a story determines the type of magic that is possible in it. Having seen some of the Harry Potter movies, I would say that its universe is basically that of Descartes. In a universe á la Descartes there are only two distinct substances: mind and matter. (There are of course also disembodied minds or spirits in Harry Potter's universe.) Mind is active and matter is passive and inert. The problem of magic is then how one can influence matter and other minds.

    Matter is a completely passive substance. It can only be manipulated by using some form of technology. Even the interaction inside one's own body is essentially seen as a form of idealised technology. The brain is like a computer that is controlled by one's mind. Through the brain the mind controls and interacts with the body.

    In such a universe, magic seen as a form of influencing matter, can only be some kind of idealised or advanced technology. That is the only way thinkable of how a mind can influence matter.

    Magic, as a form of influencing other minds, in such a universe is basically psychology, which includes things like hypnosis, suggestion etc. . Whether the other mind is embodied or disembodied does not really matter, I think.

    So it seems to me that in universe á la Descartes science fiction and magical stories must be essentially the same. The only differences are wether the clothes are medieval or futuristic and wether the technology consists of magical spells and potions or consists of impressive machinery.

  78. ב״ה
    Dear John Michael,

    Thank you for this essay. May I ask a question, please?

    In the summer of 1995 CE I was seventeen years old and deep into the heady egregor found in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco, California. I was thinking to myself one afternoon as I sat on the front steps of Golden Gate Park that I would much like some red paint so that I could dye my hair and tie it into dreadlock-like knots with the help of my friend Ulysses (who had rather nice dreadlocks).

    Just then a woman I did not know and not another head came walking out of the park and asked me if I wanted the small jar of red paint she had just found. I said yes, accepted the paint and thanked her. A moment later Ulysses walked into the park and I implored to tip the paint onto my hair and begin tying knots. He asked if I was sure, I was, and as he rubbed in the paint our fellow heads came over offer trinkets from their pockets to add to my new hairstyle.

    Aside from looking like an Oompa Loompa for a couple days as the paint made its way down my face and neck, my desire was met as I had visualized it.

    So, was this magic? Neither I nor any other hitchhiker I've met believes in coincidence. And while some of my memories during this time in my life are unreliable, please know that if I had the slightest inclination that this event was more intoxication than fact I would not bother you with the question.

    Kind Regards,

  79. Gosh, I wasn't expecting to cause a whole blog post in reaction! I only made a little comment on a blog that gets lots of them.

    For the record, I don't like JK Rowling's prose myself. But I have found that the Harry Potter books are packed with references that are useful to look at, if you are interested in magic. And, needless to say, I don't agree they are so badly misleading, but I don't think there's much point on me going on about it, I'm not trying to start an argument that is essentially about opinions and taste.

    About Dark Lords: I think what makes Tolkien's Dark Lord better than most of the copycats is that at no point his evil power is clearly explained. Everyone agrees that the Dark Lord is the evilest evil, and the One Ring has a terrible power without question, but all you ever get is this sense of dread without ever feeling too sure about what, exactly, the Dark Lord could do to you. I think that is very effective.

    I think I'll take up the challenge and try to write a story. I may even try to write a story that bends most of JMG's rules without breaking them. I'm a borderline writer, ie somebody who has managed to publish a couple of stories. But I must warn that most of the times editors find that my prose is just clunky, even if the ideas are good.

  80. Off-topic this week but more on-topic on this blog than the other:

    Is your sense of the political situation in America informed in any way by astrology? I was recently listening to an old episode of The Astrology Podcast where Nick Dagan Best talked about how every time Uranus transits Gemini, the US has an identity-redefining war (Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War II), and Uranus is headed for Gemini again in about 12 years.


    On this topic, I've also noticed that the spiritual/political phases of American culture you outlined in “Twilight of the Neopagan Era” roughly correspond to half a cycle of Uranus, and each of the political phases begins with Uranus either in Aries or Taurus, and with one exception (which starts in Scorpio), each of the spiritual phases starts when Uranus is in Libra, the beginning of the second half of the Zodiac. Isn't the first half of the Zodiac generally considered more physically-oriented and the second half more spiritually/intellectually-oriented (since if you start with 0 Aries at the Ascendant, the first half is under the Earth and the second half above it)? Fascinating in any case.

  81. Yes. Uranus does have that length of a cycle. Which Great Awakening started in Scorpio? And what event did you choose as the beginning of it? Since they're a lot harder to set boundaries to than the Crisis Era wars are. And what other planets were in Scorpio at the time?

  82. For me anyway the appeal of Harry Potter has always been in the characters, the plot lines the writing style and some of the philosophical concepts (although as has been noted they weren't really developed anywhere near as much as they could have been- even for the harry potter world). The 'magic' always seemed like mere decoration and color.

    I'll just point out another smattering of occult lore used in the books (but not really developed of course). That was the way the horcruxes (objects that carried pieces of Voldemort's soul) were all neatly hidden in accordance with the elements associated with the houses. The Cup of Hufflepuff was hidden in a Gringotts vault deep in the earth (hufflepuff elemest is earth). Slyerin's locket was hidden in a lake in cave (Slyerins element is water) and Ravenclaws diadem was hidden in a room that can disappear into thin air (Ravenclaws element is air- Griffindors Sword was never taken by Voldemort). Indeed I actually remember reading an article, before the seventh book came out that predicted such an arrangement.

  83. @Patricia –

    I'm glad you can make use of the invocation. As for the names at the four quarters, I'm afraid I never got that far. I'm not young anymore, work two jobs up to 54 hour weeks and study magic in the cracks and crevices of my life.

    I do a very basic sphere of protection so that I don't encounter any negative entities. It seems to be working. A few neutral or positive ones have come to look at me, curious probably, letting me be aware of their presence. I have such a strong reaction to them I think they prefer to contact me and teach me through dreams, synchronicity, using the material world, and of course my subconscious.

  84. Thanks, Myriam. My quick-circle-of protection is the chorus of a song called “Mount Tam” by, I think, Leslie Fish. “If there be anything here that cometh not in the name of the powers of light, then in the name of the powers of light, let it be gone. Let it be gone!”


    For the last two days, With dreams that felt meaningful and vivid. Key feature: people, a bit shadowy, passing through my house in front of the door as if it were a public corridor, going about their business inside or out. Nobody I know or knew. One yesterday (last night) was in work clothes and doing or fixing something. This one included a woman in a tidy blouse and long skirt, neither hippie nor any given period, but clothing, not “garb”. Not my door at home, BTW: mine opens onto the porch at right angles to the street. This opened onto a hallway of some sort.

    And another feature: I did not want to wake up, but struggled to do so.

    And incidentally, Spot-kitty seems to be in a deep sleep as well, with very little cuddling. The pill he didn't take but which probably got into his food enough to have an effect? Or depression because he can't go out? Or having had JoAnn working around the place?

    I post this here because I dusted off my front room mantel altar (Gaia and Pan) three days ago, and have been calling on them for strength in a hectic, exhausted presurgical time – and have from time to time been answered. And I am now psychologically ready to consider I might be seeing something real, possibly not of this plane. I add the cat simply because we may be in sync.

    You (or you all) tell me.

  86. As far as astrology and the 80 year historical cycle: it’s way too irregular to match up when you look at the cycle in other countries than the United States. See John Xenakis’ Generational Dynamics and his on-line draft of Generational Dynamics for Historians, in particular Chapter 9, which gives the crisis wars for almost two dozen countries. The full cycle can be less than 50 years or almost 120 years.

    You should, by the way, add King Philip’s War to the list of Crisis Wars in the US. Granted, it’s colonial, but it’s on Xenakis’ list and it seems to have jelled the New England colonists’ identity as separate from England. I’ve never looked at its astrology, though.

    A long time ago I went through Strauss and Howe’s work in detail for the astrology, and found a very interesting correlation with Pluto and three different charts: one generic British chart, one early colonial chart and the 2nd Continental Congress chart, which I use as the US chart. It very neatly explains the Civil War anomaly as shifting from one chart to the 2nd Continental Congress chart. It’s been a long time, and it was never published, so I don’t have the details.

  87. While I have my hands full at the moment (taking care of a baby and a toddler, buying a house, spacebats contest) and probably can't spare any headspace for this contest, I do have another project I started to work on that I'm curious about finding a publisher for eventually. I have started to write a book about the major arcana of the tarot for children. I have written little poems about 4 of the 22 cards so far. They are playful and accessible to children, while still capturing the wisdom of the cards. I would have worked on it more, but the logistics of working out a deal with both an illustrator and a publisher are not something I have had the time to look into. Any input you or any readers could give would be appreciated.

  88. I just woke up from an extended, intense teaching dream in which the teacher kept insisting that consciousness itself was an illusion, no different from the illusion that our world is real. The message I got was that ALL consciousness was an illusion. We examined this lesson for some time, and in the dream, in the mind-space I was in, this made complete sense, and I felt its truth. I understood what the teacher was saying.

    Now that I am fully awake, I've lost that understanding. If consciousness itself is just an illusion, then who is the One consciousness we seek to return to when we are ready? Is the Source-of-all-things beyond consciousness itself, meaning it's not conscious (its something else) from which consciousness itself emanates, like everything else? This makes me think all the planes are illusion. Only the Source is real.

    Going back to our discussion on will, I'm wondering if Will came before consciousness. Which would mean the Source is pure Will with no consciousness? Like an Eternal Impulse maybe? Does that even make sense? Is it possible to will-to-consciousness without being conscious? Without having a sense of what consciousness is? And if it is, what else might have been willed into existence without prior awareness of it by Will?

    I'm struggling to understand the meaning of this. I'm sure those of you who are more advanced than I am could help me understand, and I would greatly appreciate your thoughts on this.

    Maybe I'm just losing it. Or maybe I need to retake that class.

  89. Okay, now that I've dug my way more or less out of the mass of comments to the latest post on the other blog…

    Matt, I'm kind of scratching my head. NLP and the various other systems that came out of Milton Erickson's work are interesting, and they have some valuable tricks, but I've noticed that their followers tend toward a kind of omnipotence complex toward them and greatly overstate the real but not unlimited capacities those approaches have. I read Bandler and Grinder extensively when they first got into print; what they're doing has some overlap with magic, but the attempts I've seen to fuse NLP with traditional magic don't seem to have accomplished much that traditional magic can't do just as well on its own.

    Patricia, sure, but it's the expectation of literal results that makes Potter pseudomagic what it is.

    John, I'm not sure I'd liken it to a pinball arcade — more to digestion, or any other involuntary activity. I'm far from sure about the claim that souls sit down and plan things out in advance, though. That I know of, that idea is only found in theories from the late nineteenth and twentieth century industrial world, and is explicitly rejected by nearly all other teachings on the subject, which leads me to think that it may be more a reflection of the modern world's sense of entitlement than anything else.

    Jean-Vivien, I tend to think that every species capable of symbolic thinking practices some kind of magic — but you're right, of course, to suggest that the magic practiced by elephants and dolphins, for example, might be very different from ours, and embrace modes of experience outside our reach!

    Dylan, hmm. Since I'm an operative mage, and have been pursuing the goal of being one since I first found out that it was an option, I haven't read much of anything of the sort you're asking about. I wonder if any other readers have anything to suggest along the lines of a guide to magical experience for laypeople.

    Cherokee, toothy indeed! A hippogriff, for the record, is a mythical critter with the hindquarters of a horse and the forequarters of an eagle; they're well worth having, or would be if they existed, to fly to otherwise inaccessible places — Juss rode one in The Worm Ouroboros to the peak of Koshtra Pivrarcha to rescue Goldry Bluszco, and Ruggiero in Orlando Furioso rode one to the Moon to find Orlando's lost wits. Maybe one of them could find a clue for the people who want to take what you've done on your farm and, without work, transplant it all suddenly to their own property…

  90. Ozark, I didn't imply that it was necessarily universal and inevitable, merely that it's the default option. One of the classic justifications for religion is that a relationship with a deity can get you a different afterlife, right? Accept the hypothesis that the soul is capable of surviving the death of the body, and it's entirely reasonable to propose that a god or goddess could intervene in the afterlife process in the way described in so many mythologies, lifting the soul up out of the ordinary cycle of things to some other postmortem destiny — potentially a better one, potentially a worse one. You're right that the universe is a complex place, but just as most members of our species get born in the same way, have the same basic set of organs, etc., it seems plausible that unless other factors intervene, which they certainly can, most of us will experience the same processes in the afterlife. Don't assume that a brief answer to a reader's question sums up everything I'd say about a subject if I were, say, writing a book about it!

    Ed, er, the fact that you only want self-realization doesn't mean that that's the only valid goal for everyone else, you know.

    Bruno, I'll consider that for a future post on magic.

    .Mallow, it's a little more complex than that. As you develop the capacity for reflective self-knowledge, you cause changes in the internal structure of the soul, so that when the body dies the soul is capable of remaining conscious rather than sinking back into deep unconsciousness and going through the afterlife process in an automatic fashion. (People who have that capacity and develop Alzheimers and the like, according to what I've read, basically wake up as they leave the body — once the brain and its amyloid plaques are out of the way, consciousness goes clear again. It's common knowledge among people who work in nursing homes, as I did for years, that it's not uncommon for some senile patients to become mentally clear again right before they die, though others simply sink into ever deeper unconsciousness.) As for your other questions, yes and yes — moonlight generates one of the two “dragon currents” in the telluric current, and thinking, feeling, and willing are done by different subtle bodies.

    Alex, I'll look forward to it! I have no objection at all to seeing stories for this challenge reflecting some of the concerns of the other blog, though I hope not all of them do.

    Myriam, that is to say, you're doing a different ritual that borrows some elements of the Sphere of Protection, and so you're getting different results. That's a perfectly valid thing to do, but I'm not sure I can help you figure out what the energy effect you're getting might be, because the ritual you do isn't the ritual I've practiced — the invoking and banishing, and the circulation of light, are all crucial to the effects I'm used to working with. That's the thing about magic: since it's not whatever you want it to be, changing the details of a ritual can change the effect of the ritual, for good or ill. If your ritual has good effects in the long term, then there's a new ritual worth practicing; if it has bad effects — some ritual workings do — then the rest of us will know what not to try…

    Ray, fascinating. I like it.

    Cliff, okay, gotcha. Yes, I'm envisioning a mechanism of spirit, or perhaps of subtle substance. As for “indifferent,” good — in fact, the universe of standard scientific materialism isn't indifferent to human existence, it's actively hostile, and a universe in which intelligent being are a normal product of the way nature works and have a place in the scheme of things, however modest, is indeed more hospitable.

    Dadaharm, excellent! Yes, and in spades. The universe of bad fantasy magic isn't a magical universe, it's a standard materialist universe with some special effects pasted in. In a magical universe, things happen differently.

  91. Cake, I've never been sure whether to call that sort of thing magic, on the one hand, or the natural weirdness of existence on the other. I have no doubt at all that it happened, as similar things have happened to me and to a great many other people. I suppose, if pressed, I'd simply waffle and say that it's experiences like that one that demonstrate the potentials of magical training, since magic does in full and focused consciousness what that experience did half-whimsically.

    Maria, I bounce posts off readers' comments all the time. Obviously we disagree about what magic is and what helps or hinders people's understanding of it, but that's just one of those things. I'll look forward to your story; clunky prose is not necessarily a problem — I've worked professionally as an editor as well as a writer, have helped a number of writers declunk their prose, and consider it part of my job as editor of these anthologies to do that where needed.

    James, not really. I know that using outer planet transits for mundane astrology is very fashionable right now, but most of it has been purely retrospective — looking back over the past to see what seems to fit various planetary cycles — and the attempts to use that to predict events in the future have so far had a very low success rate; do you remember a little while back when Uranus squared Pluto, and a whole bunch of people were predicting massive economic and political explosions that didn't happen? Prediction is where the rubber meets the road, and until outer planet transits can reliably predict astrological conditions in advance, I'll take notes and concentrate on other techniques — Jupiter-Saturn conjunctions relative to national foundation charts, on the one hand, and annual and quarterly ingress charts, on the other.

    Tom, well, there you are. If you enjoyed the stories and didn't take the magic seriously, I have no complaint; I didn't like them, but that's purely a matter of literary taste.

    Patricia, good question. Let's see what happens.

    John, interesting. I've found the best correlations generally using the Sibley ascendant — that's the one I use to check aspects with ingress charts, for instance — but I know that's controversial, and a lot of people use different charts.

    Greg, that's going to be a real challenge. Publishers generally won't find you an artist for a book of that sort; you need to go to them with a combined proposal, including text and art. Most large publishers won't touch occult books for children, though fortunately these days there are a lot of smaller publishers that might go for something like that. I'd say your first job is to find a congenial artist who's willing to do the work “on spec” for a share of eventual royalties, and go from there.

    Myriam, Schopenhauer argues that will does come before consciousness — that consciousness is what happens when will meets obstacles. Still, I'm not at all sure what it means to say that consciousness is an illusion, because illusions are things that affect consciousness. You think you see a lake, but it's actually a mirage — that's an illusion, but if there wasn't a consciousness observing to be fooled by it, there would be no illusion. You might want to ask your nocturnal teacher what on earth (or elsewhere) he or she meant by that.

  92. Google Translate told me why 'Alohamora' is good for jar-lids and sticky doors; –

    (Uzbek) Aloham 'Separate'
    (Italian) Ora 'Now'


    I really really ought to have avoided those books… But I got ensnared by Snape.

    Sometimes a well furnished fantasy world can embuggerate one's sanity, if it is the only place you feel able to live.
    This is what made me fear to begin reading them, because of the nature of my mind. I knew they would bring me trouble. Hey ho.
    I have also made many friends around the world within the Fandom. That is a great positive, and we can circle aimlessly in our cardboard mindcastle until all the butterbeer has run out… Argh. Send Dobby up Londis? No. Put the Paper-Crack-Pipe down.

    Blimey, time for HP&t Cursed Child soon. In two parts. Harumph.

    I need to use my obsessiveness creatively, not be driven by it, blind and unwilling, into madness, or collecting expensive rubbish, or being incredibly dull to converse with.

  93. Hi John,

    I take your answer about the effect I'm getting to mean that it is not my imagination, as I thought it might be, but an effect of magic energies. Good. As a beginner, I'm still trying to feel my way in the dark, and when I encounter something, I can't be sure what it is yet.

    As for altering the recipe, it's like baking something, right? If I measure carefully and follow the recipe, I get what the picture shows. If I substitute cherries for blueberries, omit the vanilla, and change the mixing sequence, I may invent a terrific new recipe, I may get so-so results, or I may get something no one wants to eat.

    I haven't sprouted green tentacles so far… on the contrary, I'm feeling a knot of anxiety and tension that has been with me most of my life slowly dissolving, though there might be no correlation at all to this particular ritual.

    Another good lesson that has come from this: I was wondering if the effect would be dampened if I discussed it, and it definitely has. The analytical part of my mind is now watching as I do it. I'm recalling the discussion we had many months ago about experiencing something vs. thinking about it. Yep.

  94. I really was having a hard time figuring out which blog this would better contribute to the discussions on, since it relates very appropriately to both the rise of American Radicalism on the Archdruid Report, and to the cycles of spirituality and politics we’ve been discussing over here. Ultimately, though, the specifics are probably more appropriate on the more esoteric end of the discussion. A friend recently e-mailed me a link to this article, which looks at some of the same issues the Gods and Radicals post I shared here a few weeks ago raised, but with a focus on the transformation of a specific group of people (http://pulseradio.net/articles/2016/02/how-a-tiny-northeast-hippie-festival-transformed-into-a-massive-online-hate-group). That “new right” article, while taking things to a weird extreme (mostly due to the fact that the authors of the post themselves, represent a flight to political radicalism of a different sort, and therefore paint political radicals of different stripes with Lord Voldemort broad strokes), but this article I found interesting in the way it points out the way The New Age, Hippie, and Spiritualist movements that overlap in various ways with the Neopagan and Occult movements is being driven into radical populist right wing activism as well. In a lot of ways, what’s emerging right now seems to be following almost the exact trajectory Theosophy did between 1910 and 1920, when people across Europe took Theosophy and offshoots of it (particularly Ariosophy in Germany, and Anthroposophy in Russia), and incorporated them into their revolutionary and radical movements. (I went to the website this article was discussing just to see to what degree they were exaggerating, and was met with waves and waves of cartoons featuring hooked-nosed sallow skinned cartoon Jews straight out of Nazi Propaganda, and similar things for various other races and for homosexuals, and so on… and a bunch of vague, ominous talk about the coming storm, so… no, the article isn’t exaggerating)… One thing that’s concerning to me, as far as the impacts of the flight to radical politics on spiritual movements is the fact that in both Russia and Germany, once the revolutions played out, the occultists who rallied behind them no longer identified with their spiritual movements, and the spiritual communities themselves were outlawed, dissolved, and their members either driven underground, forced to flee, or arrested. I wonder if we’re headed towards a rehash of the same process right now (right down to a repetition of the exact same tired out types of radical politics we had last time without so much as a creative new twist). The first half of the 21st century is starting to look way too much like the big budget sequel to the first half of the 20th century (which… I suppose it is, isn’t it?)

  95. Coming late to the party, I don't think I have a story suitable to the proposed project. But I do have a story involving magic. Years ago I scripted a graphic novel that I still feel is pretty entertaining, but which I never executed in the intended form, as a series of drawings with text. Having at last realized that I just don't like working in the comics form, I'm now thinking of rewriting it as a novel to be densely illustrated by myself. Some passages are already so rewritten, and my prose seems passable. The genre is light adventure fantasy, set in an alternate world, and magic is definitely a significant feature.

    But I now perceive a couple of problems that I need to fix – one relatively easy, the other difficult. First, when I wrote the script I knew nothing of magic, so scenes involving it are embarrassingly Harry Potter-ish. To correct this involves reconceiving and rewriting several sequences, a significant but manageable task.

    The second is much harder. My story has villain problems. I'm afraid my villain has some of the attributes of a Dark Lord. For one thing, he is an evil wizard. Worst of all, he is imbued with motiveless evil. I would like to give him the character and motives of the worst sort of religious fanatic, but this involves a depth of rewriting that I must admit I find quite daunting. Must I find models for such a repellent character? It would appear that credible psychological complexity is not particularly easy.

  96. “Consciousness is what happens when will meets obstacles.” -JMG

    I've been meditating on that line and I'm thinking that will-to-obstacle (assume that makes sense) must therefore have happened at the same time as will-to-consciousness in the very beginning, from the Source. If the intent of the Source was to experience consciousness and consciousness happens only when will meets an obstacle, the source had to plan for obstacles.

    Which makes me think in the struggle against obstacles consciousness will grow over time. It would make sense that consciousness is not a you-have-it or you-don't, but that there are degrees of consciousness. Is it possible the reason we reincarnate is not because we have lessons to learn or karma to expiate, but we need to struggle against obstacles to grow our consciousness?

    This might explain why some of us are ready to go back to the One (our consciousness is as developed as can be from life on this earth), while others of us prefer to embrace life. However, I think if we find ourselves here, our consciousness is not fully grown, so rather than spend our lives detaching from life, we should engage in it completely, accepting the struggles it brings.

    And would it be correct to say that those who practice magic tend to be on the fringes of society, which in turn might be because they have encountered more obstacles than the golden boys and girls who win at society's games? I'm thinking early life struggles might have led to a better developed consciousness which would allow them to take the leap into the astral world.

    If this is the worst of all possible worlds (according to Schopenhauer) instead of the best, it might be because it provides more obstacles, and hence, a better chance to grow in consciousness.

    I will keep meditating on this subject. Thanks for the nugget that set it off.

  97. @JMG

    About the historical background for the idea that lives are planned out in advance. I can’t talk knowledgeably about anything other than Christianity, but until recently, that idea would have been a sure path to being burned for heresy, so the fact that it hasn’t been floated until recently can’t be used to support the idea that it’s not correct.

    One thing that just popped into mind, though, is that Hawai’ian Huna, at least as figured out by Max Freedom Long, has the concept of “the company of High Selves,” which, while it isn’t the same is at least getting a potential mechanism for planning.


    Interesting. What I get from Michael is simply that most of what we think of as “reality” is an illusion, or more specifically, it’s part of the Physical Plane and has no more validity on other planes than the world in a computer game has in the real world, such as it is. So if “consciousness” is an illusion, it doesn’t surprise me. What it means in operative terms to someone who's focused on the Physical Plane is less clear.


    About the Sibley chart. The Ascendent may be potent, for all I know, but the chart itself has been rather thoroughly debunked. As I understand it, what happened is this: Ebenezer Sibley heard about the colonies declaring their independence, so he did what any astrologer of his time would have done: he took the planets for noon in Philadelphia and inserted them into the chart of the preceding Summer Solstice at London to see what effect it would have on British fortunes. That’s what got into his textbook, which I think is available now (it wasn't for a long time). Some time later someone decided it was an actual birth chart, and then the “instant history” brigade got busy figuring out how Sibley could possibly have known the real time of signing the declaration. I expect that the Sibley ascendent works – there’s no other reason I can think of for that chart to retain its prominence.

    The reason I use the 2nd Continental Congress chart is that the July 4th charts are for the Declaration, not for Independence – the vote on the Lee-Adams resolution was on the 2nd. The July 4th charts are for a declaration of ideals. The 2CC chart has a number of interesting features, including a close conjunction between the Moon and Neptune (under 1 degree), as well as a rather clear division into two aspect clusters, one of which seems to react well to the conservative strand, the other to the liberal strand. The exact Sun-Moon trine suggests that the chart was elected.

    @Eric S.

    I haven’t seen the far right radicalization from where I’m sitting, but then, I probably wouldn’t. It’s certainly something that’s likely to happen at this point in the 80-year cycle. I don’t know whether I’ll live long enough to help pick up the pieces after the storm finishes, but maintaining a sense of neutrality is the way I’m playing it. Reminds me of the Taoist teaching story about the Old Man and the Wild Horse.

  98. (Deborah Bender)

    @Kevin–Just as one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist, one man's principled idealist is another man's fanatic. Self interest does a lot of bad in the world, but I think far worse has been committed out of unchecked idealism. Try conceiving your villain as an idealist wants to do good, and see where that takes you.

  99. This note is perhaps off-topic but Tolkien keeps coming round.

    I have many thoughts about Tolkien’s inevitably modern perspectives on history – and about his ‘magic’. A deal of my thought is about his limitations and the limitations of our modern learning about history – but Tolkien seems to have some intuitive as well as scholarly insight into particularly our ‘Western’ history. We tend to think of ‘Heroic’ societies as necessary pre-cursors of for example Hellenic civilisation – ‘warrior values’, epic poetry, drama, tragedy and all – ‘warrior society’ as a kind of generic form of human organisation. Tolkien of course was a scholar of the northern sagas.

    It could be though that the our precedent warrior cultures followed the loss of a civilisation, and emerged as war bands during collapse into Dark Age, and have cast a very long shadow across the development of subsequent European / Mediterranean civilisations including our own. See the brief extracts I am posting below.

    A particularly effective imaginative insight into the’ lost’ but emergent past is in Tolkien’s LOTR chapter “The Passage of the Marshes” when Frodo & Sam & Gollum see the dead faces of long ago. ‘But that is an age and more ago,’ said Sam. ‘The Dead can’t be really there! Is it some devilry hatched in the Dark Land?’

    I have recently read an article “Slaughter at the Bridge”, in the journal Science about archaeological evidence of a large battle in northern Europe during the Bronze Age at a place called Tollense. A great many bodies have been excavated preserved in marshy ground.

    Quotes from the article: ’It’s an army like the one described in Homeric epics made up of smaller war bands that gathered to sack Troy” an event thought to have happened fewer than 100 years later, in 1184 BCE…
    ‘… This seems to have been an era of significant upheaval from the Mediterranean to the Baltic. In Greece, the sophisticated Mycenaean civilisation collapsed around the time of the Tollense battle; in Egypt, pharaohs boasted of besting the “Sea People” who toppled the neighboring Hittites. And not long after Tollense, the scattered farmsteads of northern Europe gave way to concentrated, heavily fortified settlements, once seen only to the south.’

    The article goes on to comment: ‘Tollense looks like a first step toward a way of life that is with us still … It could be the first evidence of a turning point in social organisation and warfare in Europe.’

    Ah… Ypres, Somme …
    Phil H

  100. @ Unknown aka Deborah –

    Thanks very much for that suggestion, which I believe to be an excellent one. Now that you mention it, the worst fanatics from western history do seem to have been intemperate idealists, don't they? I expect Calvin and Torquemada thought they were doing wonderful things for the salvation of mankind. I wouldn't be surprised if the current wannabe Caliph of IS proved to be cut from much the same cloth. Even misguided do-gooders of less radical bent have done quite a lot of harm over the centuries. And I bet Pol Pot (not that he was a westerner) must have been absolutely convinced that he was going to create an ideal society, even an earthly paradise.

    I had been going to create a sort of Fred Phelps with supernatural powers. But this gives me a different body of character design principles – much food for thought.

  101. Morgan, if you can still use words like “embuggerate,” I don't think there's any danger that you're going to be too dull to converse with!

    Myriam, exactly. Replace the strawberries with blueberries or peaches, and you may get something really good. Replace the strawberries with bits of raw liver or puppy treats, probably not! Still, if it seems to be working for you, by all means. As for “just your imagination,” I really do have to do a post about that, don't I? That's like looking up at the stars on a clear night and saying, “It's just my eyes…”

    Eric, I'm deeply concerned with that possibility. Just at the moment, it looks to me as though the leftward end of the spectrum may be ahead in that particular race — I'll have a post on that this month — but both ends have the potential, of course.

    Kevin, if you don't find models for your villain, he's going to be a cardboard cutout rather than a character, and your story, if I may be frank, will suck. It may not completely suck, but that whole aspect of it — the main plot engine — will suck. May I offer a bit of advice? If you can't put yourself in the shoes of every character in your story, and understand on a gut level why that character does what he or she does at each point in the plot — especially if what he or she is doing is something that you wouldn't do yourself — your story is going to be a lot less than it could be.

    The thing is, all of us have at least a little greed for power. All of us have at least a little desire to bully the people we don't like. All of us have at times wished that we could do some really vile action — and all of us have, from time to time, done things that sickened us afterwards. That's part of being human. As a writer, part of your job is to tap into those experiences, and go through the imaginative process of figuring out what combination of experience and character makes your nasty characters do the awful things they do. While you're at it, figure out what they do that isn't awful — Hitler adored dogs and (Aryan) children, for example, and could paint a very decent watercolor landscape. Make your villains people, with their own strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices, habits and follies. Better still, turn your villains into antagonists — characters who oppose what your protagonists are trying to do, not because they're the evilest evil that ever eviled, but because they have some reason, however wrong that may be, to believe that what they're doing is the right thing. That way you get moral conflict, not just shiny heroes versus cackling villains — and that leads to a story that grabs the reader's interest and holds it.

    Myriam, excellent! Schopenhauer saw the Will as manifesting in a series of grades, and matter — what you've called the will-to-obstacle — is the first and most basic grade. Life and mind, the two higher grades — the will-to-live and the will-to-experience — follow in turn; the will colliding with matter directly gives rise to life; the will embodied in life colliding with matter gives rise to mind. So, yes, the rest of your suggestions follow as well.

  102. John, outside of Christianity, especially in the Orient, detailed discussion of reincarnation has been going on for thousands of years. Even within Christianity, you can find it tolerably often — you might find it surprising to learn how few people actually got burned for heresy, outside of specific periods of mass paranoia and status panic.

    With regard to the Sibley chart, the chart itself is a crock, no question; that's why I mentioned the Sibley ascendant rather than the chart as a whole; you take that ascendant and cast the chart for that time at the right place, and you get a chart that works quite well. As I recall — it's been a while since I looked into it — there's some other nearly contemporary testimony for that time, and most of the other times that have been cited are impossible for practical reasons — I'm thinking here of the charts that have the Declaration signed in the small hours of the morning, for example. I've sometimes wondered if the main reason the Sibley ascendant has been dismissed so often, other than the problems with the chart itself, is that it puts Saturn in the 10th house: the classic sign of a catastrophic fall waiting in the wings. That can't be popular with patriotic American astrologers!

    Phil, I thought it was fairly well known that classic heroic societies always emerge in the wake of the collapse of a previous civilization. Dark Age Europe followed Rome, Homeric Greece followed the fall of Minoan and Mycenaean civilization, and so on back to Gilgamesh, who probably came after the fall of the very dimly known pre-Sumerian civilization of what's now southern Iraq. I wonder what faces will be staring up out of the dead marshes we leave behind…

  103. Yeah, I'm moderately familiar with the discussions of reincarnation in other cultures; I disclaimed it not because I didn't know about it but because I'm less familiar with it than I am with the Western tradition.

    History has a lot of instances where the historical understanding of something turns out to be, if not precisely wrong, then a simplified special case. I could mention the shift from geocentric to heliocentric models of the solar system, and the shift from Aristotelian dynamics to Newtonian dynamics as examples. Both of them took a long time to settle in: it was well over a century between Copernicus and when heliocentricity was universally acknowledged; Kepler was the pivot point but it still took at least a generation from when he published the Rudolphine Tables to general acceptance. Newton is similar; he gets the lions share of the credit, but there were a lot of people, both before and after, that deserve more credit than they usually get. I see no particular reason to accept the historical model of reincarnation as gospel. Or the historically attested model of anything else, for that matter.

  104. @ JMG & KevinA lot of my fiction which, in my own estimation, have fallen the flattest have had to do with failing to have an interesting antagonist. In principle any source of challenge the Protagonist must face, natural, supernatural, inert, living, or human can be an antagonist. In practice it is much easier to make a story work using a human antagonist, I think because we are very prone to understanding things in the terms of social strife, and it is reinforced by the plenty of other stories which exist as source material for 'human as the antagonist' stories. Lots of the western cannon is filled with antagonists who though for the narrative are human they represent some inhuman obstacle.

    I am attracted to stories where the antagonist is inhuman, especially when the challenge is simply that the hero is trying to do something that is fundamentally cussedly difficult to pull off, or survive a circumstance over their heads. The challenge is that with out a human antagonist it is much more difficult to concentrate the problems into something a reader can grok.

    The best, in my own estimation, attempts at fiction I have made all have one thing in common. The villain of the story was the hero of the rough draft. Or at least from the people of the hero. Lots of stories for me start as visualizing some really cool context or culture or the like. The best villains end up being some representative of the really cool thing I thought up with some thorn, flaw, or interest that forces them onto a collision course with the protagonist.

    I don't know if other writers often use the 'start a character as a hero to make a villain' trick, but I think it is a very promising thought experiment to make a compelling villain.

    The Illiad is a great read for something that is very much out side of the context of white hat v. black hat stories. I find that moral judgements about the characters are completely out of that stories context… just a side thought.

  105. What magic is and is not – For your amusement.

    A guest blogger for writer Charlie Stross picked to his topic “5 Magical Beasts and How to Replace them with a Shell Script.” example: the Roomba as a House Elf.


    OF course, Charlie commits magic every time he brings out another novel. Even so, this carries out a theme first put forth by Vernor Vinge, that the internet, robotics, and AI fill the function magic did in the old time Tales of Wonder. I'm sure real practitioners smiled indulgently at Aladdin's flying carpet, too.

  106. John, of course! The consensus gentium argument — “this is true because everyone says it's true” — doesn't prove anything; neither does the argument from novelty — “this is true because it's brand new and revolutionary.” My point, as before, is simply that just as you have reasons you consider adequate to accept the Michael Teachings as a valid description of the reincarnation process, I have reasons I consider adequate to accept a very different set of teachings as valid descriptions of the same process. In the not too distant future, all things considered, each of us will get to find out who's right. 😉

    Ray, hmm! I've never had a hero turn into a villain, though I have had villains turn into protagonists. It sounds like an interesting and potentially very useful move, though, to plot out the villain's actions as though he's going to be the hero, and then tell the same story from the other side. Of course you're right about the Iliad, and more generally about fiction from pre- and non-Christian societies; the white hat vs. black hat gimmick was really pretty rare before Christianity brought it into prominence.

    Patricia, that sort of thing is very common in the hard-SF community. It always leaves me wondering if the people in question could tell the difference between a lover and a blow-up rubber doll…

  107. Turning a villain into a protagonist! I haven't made that move. The reason I have needed to turn hero's into baddies is the nature of my obsession in world building. I have a strong utopian streak, and love to invent super cool impressing lovable great factions. A lot of the emotional pay off for me is in trying to conceive a way of life that gathers together a certain collection of virtues and interests which are at the top of my imagination at the time. But, going from this phase to story telling is hard, because I end up with a team of good guys who get less interesting as they get perfected.

    A story I considered submitting for “futures distant shores” played out like this. The original main protagonist, who was a hero among her people, became more and more disturbing with each draft. Eventually I simply ditched the project because it bothered me too deeply, which I find is a common circumstance of taking seriously the logic of a culture whose values are especially different than our own.

    I had imagined up a culture descended from an underclass which had been pressured into living on marginal lands, near nuclear disasters. With terrible mortality rates, and a constant inflow of the dispossessed from surrounding cultures, they adapted genetically and culturally to their toxic wasteland, and became culturally dependent on drawing in fresh genetics from beyond their lands. Playing out the implications of this made for good therapy, but until the emotional knots in my heart mature beyond their present stage, actually completing the fiction- drawing out the horrific conclusions of their culture's premises- isn't a project I am ready for.

  108. A question for our host. Have you ever written anything more extensive about reincarnation/metemphychosis, for instance at your blogs or in one of your books? That would be interesting to read…

  109. “The theory is that the outpouring of force that brought the universe into being created the levels of being one at a time, from least material to most material, with—you got it—the world of matter the last formed, densest, and furthest from the source. “ (from Feb. 21 post)

    “Schopenhauer saw the Will as manifesting in a series of grades, and matter — what you've called the will-to-obstacle — is the first and most basic grade. Life and mind, the two higher grades — the will-to-live and the will-to-experience — follow in turn; the will colliding with matter directly gives rise to life; the will embodied in life colliding with matter gives rise to mind. “ (JMG comment from Mar. 21 post)

    And somewhere in the discussion of the last year and a half there was a comment about our world being the result of many gods coming together to create the mish-mash universe we have. Not the best, but it works, more or less. Sorry I can't find the source or what exactly was said.

    I'm trying to reconcile these statements, with full awareness that when discussing the transcendent source and emanation, we are speculating.

    If matter is necessary to create consciousness, was the non-material levels of being first created devoid of consciousness until at least one went through the pond-scum-to-god trajectory? Did all the gods and other spirits start out as pond scum? I'm assuming here that even the transcendent source was devoid of consciousness until its will met an obstacle (matter). But can you have a level of mind, or spirit without a consciousness? If not, then consciousness must have occurred without the necessity of matter.

    I keep thinking of a rainbow analogy when thinking about consciousness: light meets water droplets in the air, and a rainbow is formed. In the same way, will meets matter (according to Schopenhauer), and consciousness is formed.

    Bill (I think it was him) argued that the source did not create the universe in the past, but is continually creating, like the waterfall analogy he mentioned. If it stopped emanating, everything would instantly cease to exist, including our consciousness. In the rainbow analogy, when the light ceases, the rainbow disappears. In that sense, perhaps consciousness IS an illusion because we only exist as emanation from the source. We do not exist independently of the constantly sustaining source.

    And does this all depend on which end of the series of levels you are looking from?

    I was meditating also on what obstacles the gods struggle against in order to continue growing their consciousness, and I thought of a couple of possibilities: one is that they struggle against each other, which we see as a battle between good and evil, but which may not be from their point of view; another is that they struggle to create worlds, or affect existing ones, which is a struggle to master matter; but the third one, the one I find most intriguing, is that they struggle to teach us, and so are still in some sense struggling against the original obstacle, matter.

    Like puppies in a litter, when someone comes to look them over, if one of them leaves the group and waddles over curiously, it might be thought of as more intelligent than the others, or more willing to connect, and therefore chosen. When we turn and face the astral world, does one of the gods go “Well, this one looks trainable. I'll take him/her on.”

    Sorry for the long post. My mind has been wandering around all over the place.

  110. (Deborah Bender)

    Myriam wrote, 'Like puppies in a litter, when someone comes to look them over, if one of them leaves the group and waddles over curiously, it might be thought of as more intelligent than the others, or more willing to connect, and therefore chosen. When we turn and face the astral world, does one of the gods go “Well, this one looks trainable. I'll take him/her on.” '

    That's worth quoting.

  111. JMG wrote in reply: “… I wonder what faces will be staring up out of the dead marshes we leave behind…”

    I was thinking earlier though of the water-filled shell holes of Ypres and Somme which I guess Tolkien had seen. I presume he was there?

    Which returns us more generally to the often critically important matter of seeing things that aren’t there?
    Phil H

  112. This post explains something that was puzzling to me about a scene from the 'Retrotopia' series, in which the narrator does not recognize 'Treasure Island'. “Why not Harry Potter?” I thought at that line. “It's essentially the Treasure Island of the current era. Surely a sophisticated narrator not recognizing it would better bring across the sense of a culture with no past?”

    A personal dislike for the series explains the choice rather well. I feel compelled to say though, that while the criticisms I see in this article and the comments are fair and politely put forward, I find it disheartening how fashionable it has become to criticize what I consider a beautiful milestone in modern literature. While criticizing something both popular and (at first glance) uncomplicated is all very good sport, I find the question of why a work like Harry Potter resonates so deeply is really the more useful question to ask.

  113. I have relentlessly searched the website of Aeon Books for the title “Magic: An Occult Primer” by David Conway, without success. Is there a magic word unlock access to this title?

  114. Greetings. What is your opinion about theurgy? We (me and my friends) were able to do a few intersting things with the works of Iamblichus and Proclus combined with afro-brazillian religion, similar to haitian vodoo but different. What allowed that combination was Sallustius' “On the Gods and the World”. The gods are the same, everywhere*, eternal and indivisible, just below the One from which everything comes. I, myself, was able to do even physical effects that may be coincidence or correlation depending on the worldview. I operated something, I was not alone, in the sense that something from the other side was near and guiding me with intuition, and something happened.

    *Everywhere in the mediterranean basin, West Africa and Mexico at least. I used the afro-brazillian “sorcery”, a friend of mine the wisdom of the aztecs and the neoplatonic theories worked well in both cases.

  115. Late to the game with a question about this contest: is there a limit to the number of submissions per author. This wss not explained in the guidelines. No worries: I'm thinking of submitting two, not 4 or more.

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